Packers Shareholders Meeting Is A Window Into NFL Finances.

GREEN BAY, Wis. — A certain kind of Packer fan must get excited 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 last month was preparing to attend the team’s annual shareholders meeting, a ritual unique to the NFL’s only publicly owned team.

After Bloody Marys with family and friends, Rozum joined more than 8,000 other team shareholders in the stadium on a weekday morning last month to hear the Packers’ president, general manager and board members address the situation the fabled franchise.

“We can see where our money is going,” said Rozum, who lives nearby and walks around the stadium daily to get 10,000 steps. “Today, you can walk around like you own the place.”

Rozum’s shares, and those of the team’s other 539,000 shareholders, pay no dividends and cannot be traded. Their only perks are a chance to buy one shareholder swag and attend this two-hour annual meeting that’s a cross between staff accounting, pep rally and inside joke.

Although not worth much, the shares allow fans to dream of having a say in a team that plays in a league dominated by billionaire team owners. Many fans at the meeting observed that the Packers were not America’s Team, as the flashy Dallas Cowboys call themselves, but Team America, a franchise that dates back to when many NFL teams were located in smaller factory towns and Vince Lombardi won championships by deploying his smash-mouth brand of football that is no longer en vogue.

The reality is that fans’ willingness to pay $300 for a framed certificate helps the Packers compete with teams in much bigger cities with deep-pocketed owners who can freely splurge on bells and whistles like premium amenities. to attract the best free agents. and stadiums attract well-heeled fans.

“This is like Christmas in July,” said Keith Cox, 50, a new shareholder who drove 15 hours from Clarkesville, Ga., with his son, Jordan, 20, to attend the meeting.

“It’s a privilege to be part of the team,” Jordan said.

At the meeting, Mark Murphy, the team’s president, told shareholders to give themselves a round of applause for helping to raise $65 million in a stock sale over the winter.

Murphy said the windfall will go toward the more than $200 million being spent on new infrastructure, including larger video boards, assembly line renovations and a second generator to power it. “It’s not very sexy, is it? But we need it,” he joked. The players and coaches will get a new training facility as well as underground parking.

Because the Packers are publicly owned, the team must release annual financial figures that provide insight into all 32 teams, making it difficult for all other owners who try to keep a close eye to learn the intricacies of their wealth.

And this year, the picture is bright. The Packers generated record revenue of $579 million 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 growth media and sponsorship contracts, which are divided among the 32 clubs. Shared revenue grew 12.3 percent last year and is so strong that each team is guaranteed to make a profit regardless of field performance because their biggest expense – player payroll – was capped. at just $188 million last year.

The 10-year labor agreement the NFL signed with the players union in 2020 with the 17th regular season game added another cash flow. New revenue from sports betting partnerships is starting to pour in. It also started the 2021 renewal of broadcast rights agreements worth more than $100 billion over the next decade.

The financial outlook in pro football is so bright that the value of the franchise continues to rise sharply: The Denver Broncos sold this year for $4.65 billion, a record for an American sports team.

“It seems like a blessed time to be an NFL owner,” said Andrew Brandt, who negotiated player contracts for the Packers from 1999 to 2008 and now runs the sports law program at Villanova University. “Not only is the money emerging, but it’s the duration of the markets because when you invest in something, you have a long way of security. So yeah, it’s a successful business.”

The Packers, however, play in one of the smallest television markets in the league, so the team works harder than most to generate money at home. Local revenue hit $232 million last year thanks to fans returning to Lambeau Field. In accumulating cash back, the team did not need to dip into the $440 million reserve.

“This is our alternative to having a rich owner, nothing against rich owners,” Murphy said.

The Packers aren’t shy about selling their history to get money they don’t have to share with other teams and can use to pay for their own initiatives. Tours of Lambeau Field cost up to $67, and the pro shop and 1919 Kitchen & Tap, a bar inside the stadium, are often packed. The Packers recently released a four-volume history of the team that sells for $99.

Like many other NFL teams that have developed commercial real estate around their facilities – such as the New England Patriots, the Cowboys and the Los Angeles Rams – the Packers are working with other companies to develop the 45 acres directly west of the stadium turned into a residence. and a commercial development called Titletown, a nod to the team’s 13 league championships.

When the project is fully completed, the Packers and their partners will have invested $300 million. So far, two-thirds of the 152 apartments are leased, including to some players, and the team has sold about half of the 50 or so townhouses it plans. Almost 80 percent of the office space is rented. The team does not release specific financial figures, but said the investments are now profitable.

Among the offices facing Lambeau Field are those of some of the nearly two dozen technology startups in which the team has invested. The Packers and Microsoft contributed $5 million each to a $25 million fund to nurture emerging businesses focused on healthcare; sports and entertainment media; supply chain technology; construction and agriculture; and the environment, areas that overlap with industries in Wisconsin. If the startups are acquired or go public, the Packers will receive a share of the proceeds.

Craig Dickman, managing director at TitletownTech, the startup incubator, said the Packers have “this unique ability to come together,” referring to the team having enlisted university professors and business mentors to help the new businesses.

One of those firms, Oculogica, has created a device, called EyeBOX, that tracks eye movement to help diagnose brain injuries, including concussions. The company’s EyeBOX, run by Rosina and Uzma Samadani, sisters who grew up near Madison, Wis., has been approved by the FDA and is being used by hospitals across the country.

The Samadanis said the Packers viewed their technology as a potential help in dealing with the concussion crisis plaguing football, and said it has broader applications in emergency rooms, on battlefields and elsewhere.

“I don’t know if there’s another NFL team that would invest in a concussion diagnostic company,” Rosina Samadani said. “At the end of the day, that really says that they’re connected to the community and haven’t lost sight of what’s really happening in the world.”

Those community connections are what convinced Chris and Dodie Kocher to drive from Indianapolis to attend the meeting. They honeymooned in Green Bay in 1979 and still love the team’s hometown feel. After their daughter bought them shares this winter, they had to return to Lambeau Field to celebrate.

“It’s a long drive, but it’s worth it,” Chris said.

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