Most weekdays from now until the Packers and Seahawks kick off on September 4th, The Big Lead will detail one reason we are excited for football season to begin. Including today, we’re 37 days away from NCAA and 44 from NFL.
Tomorrow morning, there will be a trickle of national news-flow out of the annual Packers Shareholder Meeting. More than 10,000 attendees, some of whom will use the summer day playing hooky from work as a tailgating opportunity, will trickle into Lambeau Field to hear about the state of the organization. Most of the discourse will revolve around snarkily painting the spectators and their cohorts (352,427 people own the franchise’s 4,738,027 shares) as, to borrow a phrase from my colleague Stephen Douglas, flyover state rubes for purchasing shares of stock which effectively hold zero intrinsic value. For example:
Rovell’s called Packers shares “the greatest racket in sports” (Rovell is an admittedly easy example, but to be fair, he’s far from the only media member to believe this), but that’s fundamentally untrue for we Green Bay fans that derive immense psychic benefits from the fact that the team exists in our lives. Though the franchise has been thriving on and off the field largely since Brett Favre began his consecutive starts streak in 1992, it was far from a formality throughout the team’s history that any of this would have had the chance to happen.
There were, of course, the glory years in the Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi eras, but there have been several prolonged stretches in between the team’s periods of dominance in which a profit-seeking owner probably would have moved the franchise to greener pastures. As I’ve written before, Boston, Dallas, Oakland, Baltimore, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Houston, St. Louis, and other cities have either temporarily or permanently lost franchises while Green Bay–and its population of under 105,000–has not.
There are scant odds that the Green Bay Packers would exist today without its public sponsorship model.
And, well, that would suck. The Packers are a major part of my identity. For better or worse, I think about them all year; during the season, I essentially shuffle the rest of my life around their schedule. They’ve been the source of many of my happiest memories. With my Dad and brother, I saw them win the Super Bowl. The sense of community that the collective ownership engenders is different than anything I’ve observed in other fan bases. How do you put a price on that?
To me, it would be unfulfilling to go through life placing an outsized value on dollars and cents. Caring at all about sports in the first place is wholly irrational when you really boil it down — we’re infatuated with the outcome and meaning of strangers and their laundry, and it’s pretty statistically improbable they’ll win and we’ll be happy — and Packers fans serve as proof that plutocratic owners are revered in some circles even though they are probably unnecessary middlemen as it pertains to aggregate enjoyment.
As a counter to the Packers model, take the rival Vikings. As I wrote verbatim last May, team owner Zygi Wilf lost a civil lawsuit that dated back to the early 1990s’ in which the Vikings owner and his family were ordered to pay $84.5 million to their former partners, who were deliberately cut out of money owed in a real estate deal. “The bad faith and evil motive were demonstrated in the testimony of Zygi Wilf himself,” said Judge Deanne Wilson in describing the Wilfs’ “organized-crime-type activities”. The ruling has been appealed.
The Vikings bent the Minnesota community over a barrel for nearly half-a-billion dollars in public financing for their upcoming new stadium, and saddled citizens with ever more costs in purported agreement to the NFL’s outrageous demands for the privilege of hosting Super Bowl LII in 2018. Everybody who’s not lobbying to get these stadiums built or trumpeting the value of hosting “The Big Game” knows that these costs never come close to being recouped.
While similar arguments can be made to my earlier ones in favor of the irrational fan-hood of Vikings supporters, Minnesotans who couldn’t care less about the team are more disproportionately compelled to subsidize the franchise whereas the “worthless” Packers shares that were used to fund $286.5 million in renovations in and around Lambeau represented voluntary sponsorship. None of that bill was footed by public financing.
Although there was a half-cent sales tax approved in Wisconsin’s Brown County in 2000 that went towards Lambeau improvements in 2003, the state of Minnesota issued $462 million in bonds with 4.27% in interest that it will be paying back for 30 years. Whatever happens with the budget and economy during that time, they’re stuck with that liability.
The point of this is not to disparage Vikings fans — as long as Los Angeles and London loom as threats for possible relocation, owners will try to leverage passion to get lawmakers to foot the bill for costs that won’t expire until presumably long after they’re out of office. If the roles were reversed, I’d have been deafeningly vocal about getting the damn stadium done because, clearly, the preservation of my favorite team’s existence is something that is stupidly important to me.
Anyways, there are lot of people who, like me, love the Green Bay Packers. We feel endlessly lucky that we get to watch Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, Eddie Lacy, and a team that is in the midst of a prolonged Super Bowl window. Our pieces of paper signifying ownership clearly have no monetary value, but there are an abundance of worthy reasons why they were so zealously purchased.
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