GREEN BAY, Wis. – A certain type of Packers fan needs to step outside Lambeau Field at sunrise, months before the team’s season begins. But Tom Rozum is no ordinary fan: He’s a Packers shareholder who was preparing to attend the team’s annual shareholder meeting last month, a ritual unique to the NFL’s only public team.
After Bloody Marys with family and friends, Rozum joined more than 8,000 other team shareholders at the stadium one Sunday morning last month to hear from the Packers’ president, general manager and board members about the state of the storied franchise.
“We see where our money is going,” joked Rozum, who lives nearby and walks around the stadium to climb the 10,000 steps every day. “Today you can walk around like you own the place.”
Rozum shares and the team’s other 539,000 shareholders do not pay dividends and cannot be traded. Their only benefit is the chance to buy shareholder-only swag and attend this two-hour annual meeting, which is a cross between conscientious team accounting, honor roll and inside jokes.
While largely worthless, stocks allow fans to dream that they have a voice in a team playing in a league dominated by billionaire team owners. Many fans at the meeting saw the Packers not as America’s Team, as the Dallas Cowboys call themselves, but as Americana’s Team, a franchise that reflects a time when many NFL teams were based in small factory towns and Vince Lombardi won championships. A dangerous football brand that is no longer in fashion.
The reality is that fans’ willingness to pay $300 for a frame certificate helps the Packers compete with teams in much bigger cities with deep-pocketed owners who can freely spend on bells and whistles like high-end facilities to attract top free agents. and stadiums to attract well-heeled fans.
“It’s like Christmas in July,” said Keith Cox, 50, a new shareholder who drove 15 hours from Clarksville, Ga., with his son Jordan, 20, to attend the meeting.
“It’s a privilege to say that I own a part of the team,” Jordan added.
At the meeting, Mark Murphy, the team’s president, told shareholders to applaud for raising $65 million in a stock sale over the winter.
Murphy said the windfall will go toward more than $200 million that will be spent on new infrastructure, including bigger video boards, renovations to the building and a second generator to power it all. “It’s not very sexy, is it? But we need it,” he joked. Players and coaches will get a new training place with underground parking.
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Because the Packers are publicly owned, the team must release annual financial figures that provide a window into all 32 teams, much to the chagrin of all the other owners trying to keep an eye on the specifics of their wealth.
This year, the picture is clear. 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 split among all 32 clubs. Total revenue rose 12.3 percent last year and is so strong that all teams are guaranteed to make a profit regardless of their performance on the field, as their biggest expense — player payroll — was just $188 million last year.
The 10-year labor agreement the NFL signed with the players union in 2020 added a 17th regular season game, another cash flow. The new revenue starts from sports gambling partnerships. It also began renewing broadcast rights deals in 2021, worth more than $100 billion over the next decade.
The financial outlook for professional football is so bright that franchise value continues to skyrocket: The Denver Broncos sold for $4.65 billion this year, a record for an American sports team.
“It just seems like a blessed time to be an NFL owner,” said Andrew Brandt, who negotiated player contracts with the Packers from 1999 to 2008 and now directs the sports law program at Villanova University. “It’s not just the money that’s scary, but also the length of the deal, because when you invest in something, you want security. So yes, it’s a growing business. “
However, the Packers play in one of the smallest television markets in the league, so the team works harder than most to make money at home. Local revenue was $232 million last year thanks to fans returning to Lambeau Field. By piling up the money, the team didn’t have to dip into its $440 million reserve fund.
“This is our alternative to having a wealthy landlord, nothing against wealthy landlords,” Murphy said.
The Packers aren’t shy about selling their history to get money that they don’t have to share with other teams and that they can use for their own initiatives. Tours of Lambeau Field cost $67, and the pro shop and 1919 Kitchen & Tap, a bar inside the stadium, are often full. The Packers recently released a four-volume history of the team that retails for $99.
Like many other NFL teams that have developed commercial real estate around their facilities — such as the New England Patriots, Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams — the Packers are working with other companies to turn the 45 acres west of the stadium into residential housing. and a commercial development called Titletown, the team’s leading 13 championships.
When the project is fully completed, the Packers and their partners will invest $300 million. So far, two-thirds of the 152 apartments have been leased, including some to players, and the team has sold about half of the 50 townhouses it plans to build. Almost 80 percent of the office space is rented. The team did not release specific financial figures, but said the investment is now profitable.
The offices facing Lambeau Field are the offices of about two dozen tech startups in which the team has invested. The Packers and Microsoft each contributed $5 million to a $25 million fund to incubate emerging businesses focused on healthcare; sports media and entertainment; supply chain technology; construction and agriculture; and the environment, areas that overlap with Wisconsin industries. If the startups are acquired or go public, the Packers will receive a share of the revenue.
Craig Diekman, managing director of start-up incubator TitletownTech, said the Packers have a “unique ability to assemble”, meaning the team has brought in university professors and business mentors to help the new businesses.
One of those businesses, Oculogica, has developed a device called EyeBOX that monitors eye movement to help diagnose brain injuries, including concussions. The company, run by sisters Rozina and Uzma Samadan, who grew up near Madison, Wis., has had its EyeBOX approved by the FDA and is being used in hospitals across the country.
The Packers viewed their technology as a potential aid to the treatment of the concussion crisis plaguing football and said it has broader applications in emergency rooms, battlefields and elsewhere, Samandeli said.
“I don’t know if there’s another NFL team that would invest in a concussion diagnostic company,” Rosina Samadan said. “At the end of the day, it really says something that they’re tied into the community and that they haven’t lost sight of what’s really going on in the world.”
Those community connections convinced Chris and Dodi Kocher to drive from Indianapolis to attend the meeting. They honeymooned in Green Bay in 1979 and still love the team’s hometown. After their daughter bought them shares this winter, they got to go back to Lambeau Field to celebrate.
“It’s a long road, but it’s worth it,” Chris said.