The Denver Broncos 2015-16 season will be remembered for a lot of reasons. Of course, it will ultimately be remembered for their final game, Super Bowl 50, leaving Levi’s Stadium under a downpour of gold confetti but this week, on a quiet break from football in June, the team pulled down two more admirable awards.
The Broncos public relations staff was honored with the 2016 Pete Rozelle Award by the Professional Football Writers of America. It is their second in three years. A day earlier, Executive Vice President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway received the 2016 Jack Horrigan Award, also from the PFWA. Both awards represent excellence in the field of public relations and helping create a healthy working relationship with the media throughout the year.
A professional sports team has many obligations. They must work with the public, the media and, of course, their employees and players—all while balancing a litany of possible stories relating to on and off-field issues that arise nearly year-round. The Broncos have established a reputation for fairness and often, openness with the media, a quality that ‘s hard to find in other organizations.
The reputation represented by the two awards, like many things in a large company, starts at the top. Although Owner Pat Bowlen is not longer working with the team, he hired the front office that represents his ideals. Joe Ellis and Elway have taken those principles and made them known to the likes of Patrick Smyth (VP of public relations), Erich Schubert (senior manager of media relations), Seth Medvin (media relations coordinator), Rebecca Villaneuva (corporate communications manager) and several other employees and interns.
“Anytime you receive that kind of recognition it is a great honor,” Smyth told BSN Denver on Friday afternoon. “The award is a direct reflection of the positive culture built by Joe [Ellis], [John] Elway and Gary [Kubiak] of how to interact with the media. Also, it shows how great our locker room was last season on an incredible run—a lot of requests and a lot of attention, both good and bad.”
Elway also had a difficult job as general manager. He is put in place to make moves that give his club the best chance of winning and often that means he must not show his true intentions to the media and the public ahead of time. However, receiving the Horrigan Award shows how much of an effort he has put forth to help the media report on the team so many love.
Elway was cited by the PFWA membership for his willingness to offer perspective on what’s happening in the league as well as candid, honest assessments of events surrounding the Broncos in both good and difficult times,” PFWA President Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com said Thursday.
The Broncos dealt with suspensions, difficult injuries, a highly publicized quarterback controversy, not to mention a thrilling season in which nearly every single game came down to the final moments. Through it all, they handled themselves with professionalism and very rarely shied away from the tough questions.
“Eric, Seth, Rebecca and the interns did an awesome job of giving the local media access to what they needed while helping the players remain focused on the ultimate goal,” Smyth said. “To receive the Pete Rozelle Award after a championship year is icing on the cake and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
The return of Kubiak and the Broncos receiving another Rozelle award does not seem to be a coincidence either. According to longtime NFL beat reporter John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, Kubiak has been the head coach of five teams that received the award. He certainly was honest and as open as he could be throughout his first season back with the team.
According to the PFWA, the Broncos earned the 27th Pete Rozelle award, given out since 1990 (the team earned the inaugural award) that is named after the NFL commissioner from 1960-1989. Rozelle broke into the NFL as the PR director of the Los Angeles Rams in 1952 after years of similar roles at multiple colleges. Elway received the 43rd Jack Horrigan Award, the third to go to the Broncos organization. Floyd Little (1976) and Bob Peck (1978) also received the honor.