Bloomberg BusinessWeek says:
The Green Bay Packers Have the Best Owners in Football
Since I am one of those owners, I of course agree.
That headline begins Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s story about the Packers, the most unique franchise in professional sports:
The Green Bay Packers are a historical, cultural, and geographical anomaly, a publicly traded corporation in a league that doesn’t allow them, an immensely profitable company whose shareholders are forbidden by the corporate bylaws to receive a penny of that profit, a franchise that has flourished despite being in the smallest market in the NFL—with a population of 102,000, it would be small for a Triple A baseball franchise. Of all the original NFL franchises—located in places like Muncie, Ind., Rochester, N.Y., Massillon and Canton, Ohio, and Rock Island, Ill.—Green Bay is the only small-town team still in existence. The Packers have managed not merely to survive but to become the NFL’s dominant organization, named by ESPN (DIS) in 2011 as the best franchise in all of sports. …
When you talk to Packer management, you start to realize that success is a tribute to the careful, constant maintenance of two things: the product on the field and the community’s warm feelings about that product. “It starts with football,” says [President Mark] Murphy. “We structure the organization in a way that we can be successful on the field. But a big part of it is also remembering that this team has a special place in this community. We’re owned by this community. We can’t be perceived as gouging the fans.”
The Packers must constantly walk that fine line between profitability and community. Every other NFL franchise is controlled or entirely owned by one majority shareholder, and NFL rules prohibit otherwise. (The Packers’ ownership structure predates current NFL rules.) Ticket prices, concessions, parking, stadium naming rights—all of that is dictated at most NFL stadiums by whatever the owner feels the market will bear, and every additional dollar is profit into the owner’s pockets.
The Packers don’t operate like that. Take ticket prices: Even after a 9 percent bump this Super Bowl championship year, the highest-priced ticket is $83, lower than all but two other franchises. In contrast to other NFL venues and their garish, wraparound ad signage, Lambeau is as austere as a high school football stadium. …
Ultimately, the Packers are able to thrive in ways others cannot because the team is a cultural icon—a symbol of America’s love of the underdog who overperforms. The intensity of feeling at Lambeau every home game is common to only a handful of other pro sports venues in the country—Fenway Park before a playoff game might come closest. There is the game on the field, and then there is the sense of those 60,000 in attendance that they are involved in something bigger than the sport; they’re honoring a compact.
As he paces the sidelines before the kickoff, Mark Murphy is mindful of that heritage, that special bond between team and town that he is charged with carrying forward. “We’re stewards,” he says, looking up from the playing field to the fans filing into Lambeau. “We’re taking care of the Packers for the next generation.”