Its the Green Bay Packers vs. the New England Patriots in the Superbowl down in New Orleans on January 26, 1997. To most fans, mention Green Bay and some think of coach Vince Lombardi’s champions of the late sixties. Others think of the frigid weather swirling around Lambeau Field where the packers have won 27 of their last 28 games.
But few seem to wonder how the relatively small city of Green Bay, Wisconsin manages to keep their football team from moving to richer or warmer climes as 15 other football teams have since 1950. The answer: the Green Bay Packers are owned by their fans!
At the present time of gross commercialism that jettisons any notion of fan loyalty, consider the foresight of those who created the Packers back in 1923 as a non-profit, tax-exempt organization. Article I of their bylaws declares that “this association shall be a community project, intended to promote community welfare….Its purposes shall be exclusively charitable.”
Two thousand stockholders own about 4,500 shares and no one can own more than 200 shares. Shares cannot be traded and there are no dividends (other than team victories). A board of directors, elected by the stockholders, manages the team which can move away only through dissolution. If that happens, the shareholders receive only $25 per share.
To further lock the Packers into Green Bay, the corporate charter provides that in case of dissolution all the assets “go to Sullivan-Wallen Post No. 11 of the American Legion for the purpose of creating a soldiers’ memorial.”
While residents in other National Football League cities have to pay annual subsidies to pay for the shakedown contracts that sports team corporations get out of local politicians, under threat of leaving or not coming to the area, the people of Green Bay watch the Packers generate a money surplus that is used to improve their stadium at no cost to the taxpayers.
The fans who own the Packers are not passive. In 1974 they wanted star quarterback Bart Starr to be the new head coach and general manager, after his retirement from active play, and the Board of Directors agreed.
There clearly is a community team spirit behind the Packers that has sustained the players through many a losing season before their recent resurgence. The field itself bespeaks of the rugged old team days before domed stadiums and artificial turf turned football into a “made for prime time” television spectacle. Playing at Lambeau Field allows a little sense of the days of Jim Thorpe and Bronco Nagurski.
The Carolina Panthers were so spooked by the frozen wastes of Green Bay Packer Land, before their loss a few days ago, that their equipment staff packed thermal body suits, skin-tight surgical gloves, heat packs, skull caps and cold cream. On their sideline there were heated benches, parkas and hot soup. Shades of Thorpe and Nagurski!
The history of the Green Bay Packers as a community, professional football team is especially timely because of the very large packages of corporate welfare squeezed out of municipalities and states. A new book, Major League Losers: What Governments and Taxpayers Need to Know by Professor Mark S. Rosentraub (Basic Books) details the ways new stadiums and arenas are built at taxpayer expense, while municipalities are shut out from sharing in the profits.
These sweetheart deals, negotiated secretly without public participation or referendum ratification, results in these megamillionaires, who own the teams, getting land, revenue guarantees, luxury suites, prime office space and other goodies financed by the powerless taxpayers.
It is time for a national FANS organization that focuses on this runaway corporate welfare for runaway sports corporations as well as on the more routine gouging of the fans — that is those who are able to afford any tickets these days. (If you think this is a good idea, write to FANS, P. 0. Box 19312, Washington, DC 20036).