‘Today, You Can Walk Around Like You Own the Place.’
GREEN BAY, Wis. — It takes a certain type of Packers fan to tailgate outside Lambeau Field at sunrise months before the team’s season kicks off. But Tom Rozum isn’t an ordinary fan: He’s a Packers shareholder who last month was preparing to attend the team’s annual shareholder meeting, a rite unique to the N.F.L.’s only publicly owned team.
After Bloody Marys with family and friends, Rozum joined more than 8,000 other team shareholders in the stadium on a weekday morning last month to hear the Packers’ president, general manager and board members address the state of the fabled franchise.
“We can see where our money is going to,” joked Rozum, who lives nearby and circles the stadium daily to get to 10,000 steps. “Today, you can walk around like you own the place.”
Rozum’s shares, and those of the team’s other 539,000 shareholders, pay no dividends and cannot be traded. Their only benefits are a chance to buy shareholder-only swag and attending this two-hour annual meeting that is a cross between a dutiful accounting of the team, a pep rally and an inside joke.
Though largely worthless, the shares let fans dream that they have a voice in a team that plays in a league dominated by billionaire team owners. Many fans at the meeting viewed the Packers not as America’s Team, as the flashy Dallas Cowboys call themselves, but as Americana’s Team, a franchise that harkens back to when many N.F.L. teams were based in smaller factory towns and Vince Lombardi won championships by deploying a brand of smash-mouth football that’s no longer en vogue.
The reality is that the fans’ willingness to pay $300 for a frameable certificate helps the Packers compete with teams in far larger cities with deep-pocketed owners who can spend freely on bells and whistles such as top-rate facilities to lure the best free agents and stadiums to attract well-heeled fans.
“This is like Christmas in July,” said Keith Cox, 50, a new shareholder who drove 15 hours from Clarkesville, Ga., with his son, Jordan, 20, to attend the meeting.
“It’s a privilege to say I own a fraction of the team,” Jordan added.
At the meeting, Mark Murphy, the team’s president, told the shareholders to give themselves a round of applause for helping raise $65 million in a stock sale during the winter.
Murphy said the windfall will go toward the more than $200 million being spent on new infrastructure, including larger video boards, concourse renovations and a second generator to power it all. “It’s not very sexy, is it? But we need it,” he joked. The players and coaches will also get a new training facility with underground parking.
A Guide for Investors
The decline of the stock and bond markets this year has been painful. And it remains difficult to predict what is in store for the future.
- Grim Outlook: Investors had an awful start to the year as stocks twice entered bear market territory, and further losses may be on the way.
- A Bright Spot: As financial markets around the world fell this spring amid worries about inflation and rising interest rates, energy was the only sector gaining ground.
- Advice for Investors: Bear markets and recessions are far more common than many people realize. Being prepared can minimize hardship and even offer investing opportunities, our columnist says.
- A Recession Alarm: An inversion of the bond market’s yield curve, a way of showing how interest rates on various U.S. government bonds compare, has preceded every U.S. recession for the past half century. It is happening again.
Because the Packers are publicly owned, the team must release annual financial figures that provide a window into all 32 teams, much to the consternation of every other owner who tries to keep prying eyes from learning the specifics of their wealth.
And this year, the picture is bright. The Packers generated a record $579 million in revenue last year, a 56 percent increase, as fans returned to games after pandemic-related restrictions were lifted.
Nearly 60 percent of that revenue, or $347.3 million, came from the Packers’ share of the league’s growing media and sponsorship contracts, which are divided among all 32 clubs. The shared revenue grew 12.3 percent last year and is so robust that every team is guaranteed to turn a profit regardless of on-field performance because their biggest expense — player payroll — was capped at just $188 million last year.
The 10-year labor agreement the N.F.L. signed with the players’ union in 2020 added a 17th regular season game, another money stream. New revenue from sports gambling partnerships is starting to pour in. The 2021 renewal of broadcasting rights agreements worth more than $100 billion over the next decade has also started to kick in.
The financial outlook in pro football is so bright that the value of franchises continues a precipitous rise: The Denver Broncos this year sold for $4.65 billion, a record for an American sports team.
“It just seems like a blessed time to be an N.F.L. owner,” said Andrew Brandt, who negotiated player contracts for the Packers from 1999 to 2008 and now runs the sports law program at Villanova University. “Not only is the money staggering, but it’s the length of the deals because when you invest in something, you want security in length. So yeah, it’s a booming business.”
The Packers, though, play in one of the league’s smallest television markets, so the team works harder than most to generate money at home. Local revenue hit $232 million last year thanks to fans returning to Lambeau Field. With money piling back up, the team did not have to dip into its $440 million reserve fund.
“This is kind of our alternative to having a rich owner, nothing against rich owners,” Murphy said.
The Packers are not shy about selling their history to attain money that they do not have to share with other teams and that can be used to pay for their own initiatives. Tours of Lambeau Field cost as much as $67, and the pro shop and 1919 Kitchen & Tap, a bar inside the stadium, is often packed. The Packers recently issued a four-volume history of the team that sells for $99.
Like many other N.F.L. teams that have developed commercial real estate around their facilities — such as the New England Patriots, the Cowboys and the Los Angeles Rams — the Packers are working with other companies to turn the 45 acres immediately west of the stadium into a residential and commercial development called Titletown, a nod to the team’s league-leading 13 championships.
When the project is fully completed, the Packers and their partners will have invested $300 million. So far, two-thirds of the 152 apartments are leased, including to some players, and the team has sold about half of the 50 or so townhouses it plans to build. Nearly 80 percent of the office space is rented. The team does not release specific financial figures, but it said the investments are now profitable.
Among the offices facing Lambeau Field are those of some of the nearly two dozen tech start-ups in which the team has invested. The Packers and Microsoft each contributed $5 million to a $25 million fund to incubate emerging businesses that focus on health care; sports media and entertainment; supply-chain technology; construction and agriculture; and the environment, areas that overlap with industries in Wisconsin. If the start-ups are acquired or go public, the Packers will receive a share of the proceeds.
Craig Dickman, a managing director at TitletownTech, the start-up incubator, said the Packers “have this unique ability to convene,” referring to the team having enlisted university professors and business mentors to help the new businesses.
One of those businesses, Oculogica, created a device, called an EyeBOX, that tracks eye movement to help diagnose brain injuries, including concussions. The company, run by Rosina and Uzma Samadani, sisters who grew up near Madison, Wis., had its EyeBOX approved by the F.D.A. and they are being used by hospitals throughout the country.
The Samadanis said the Packers viewed their technology as a potential aid in treating the concussion crisis that has plagued football, and said it has wider applications in emergency rooms, on battlefields and elsewhere.
“I don’t know if there’s another N.F.L. team that would invest in a concussion diagnostic company,” Rosina Samadani said. “At the end of the day, that really says something about their being tied into the community and that they haven’t lost sight of what’s really happening in the world.”
Those ties to the community are what convinced Chris and Dodie Kocher to drive from Indianapolis to attend the meeting. They spent their honeymoon in Green Bay in 1979 and still love the hometown feel of the team. After their daughter bought them shares this winter, they had to return to Lambeau Field to celebrate.
“It’s a long drive, but it’s worth it,” Chris said.