By Jeff Bercovici, Forbes Staff
September 7, 2011
… With some 112,000 shareholders, the Packers are the only publicly owned team in America. Add to that Green Bay’s distinction as the country’s smallest major league sports market and they seem a nostalgic aberration amid megamoneyed rivals like the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots. The longstanding line among football aficionados pegs the Packers as a charming welfare case that exists thanks only to the sufferance of other, richer NFL franchises. They allow the team to stay put in tiny Green Bay as an emblem of the league’s working-class roots.
In reality the Green Bay Packers are an emerging financial power in the NFL. Despite their minuscule market, revenues for fiscal 2010 hit an alltime high of $259 million, 11th out of 32 teams and well above major-market franchises like the San Francisco 49ers ($234 million) and the Atlanta Falcons ($233 million). The Packers are regularly one of the 15 teams that pay into the league’s reserve fund rather than draw from it (so much for welfare). Their Super Bowl win, coming enhancements at the stadium and the league’s new collective bargaining agreement with players will make them stronger still.
But if leaguewide TV deals and salary caps help the Pack stay on par with rivals, it’s their unique relationship with fans that puts them in the top tier financially. From the first of four public stock offerings in 1923 (shares are nontransferable) through the Vince Lombardi era to last year’s Super Bowl win, the team has crafted deep ties to their followers. When FORBES recently ran the numbers on which NFL faithful were the most passionate (comparing television ratings and Internet traffic to market size) the Cheeseheads emerged on top. Every home game since 1960 has been a sellout, and the waiting list for season tickets is 88,000 strong. In 2010 the Packers led all NFL teams in merchandise sales, and they lead in local per-fan revenue at $312 (the league average is $41).
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