Are the Green Bay Packers Some Kind of Co‑op?
Thoughts on the Organization’s Latest Issue of Shares
“Have you seen this?”, my friend Greg Brodsky over at Start.coop asked me in a recent email. He was referring to the online stock sale the Green Bay Packers hosted on Nov. 16.
Greg was shaking his head at the teams’ campaign to raise $90 million — for new video boards and “concourse improvements” at Lambeau Field. (The NFL rules require that any funds raised from stock sales — and only one NFL team can offer those must be used for stadium projects which are “beneficial to fans.”)
“They’re making people think they’re buying into some kind of a co‑op!” he added in amused disbelief. After looking at the prospectus, I had to agree. (If you check out the traditional seven cooperative principles, it’s pretty clear the Packer organization does not qualify.)
This is the sixth, ahem, stock sale in the Packers’ 102-year history. The first three sales — 1923, 1935, 1950 — were about “survival of the organization,” according to Packers prez Mark Murphy. Given the economics of the times, you could also call them legit crowdfunding campaigns — even appealing to literal crowds in the stands to help the team stay in business.
The latter three sales, Murphy acknowledges, “were really about Lambeau Field.” I would argue the latter three are also about the rise of sports marketing and extractive retail real estate. Which means Lambeau Field is not only a sacred shrine (like Wrigley Field in Chicago) but will soon become another Disney-like cash register for the operators and owners of the concessions there — but not for the holders of microscopic equity stakes.
Just so you don’t need to read the whole 17-page prospectus:
- One share of the Packers’ stock will cost you $300.
- At current levels, the share does indeed entitle you to ownership in the Packers: you will own 0.000019 of the team.
- You can only buy 200 shares, which means $60,000 is the maximum you can give the Packers for a cool-looking piece of paper — a collectible, basically. (There is also a $35 “handling fee,” which must cover the smart way the team’s management is handling this.)
- Your share entitles you (along with some 361,300 other shareholders) to one vote in electing the board of directors at the annual Packers meeting at Lambeau Field in July. Which will not exactly equip you to become a shareholder activist, even if you buy 200 shares.
- Finally, and somewhat incredibly, the fine print in the prospectus indicates that if you publicly criticize the Packers or any other NFL team, you are liable to having your stock be rescinded.
If you really get out of line about it, the Commissioner has the authority to fine you up to $500,000. (Apparently no such punitive actions have yet been taken against anyone.)
The problem here is not that Packers fans shouldn’t be allowed to buy outrageously priced collectibles. In this country, playing on a mix of history and sentimentality in order to further enrich a few already wealthy people is pretty routine. (Disney theme parks are the Super Bowl here.)
You might ask: why is this sale necessary? The Packers reported $507 million in the pre-Covid period ending in March 2020, on top of their corporate reserve fund of a tidy $491 million. The likely impetus here is the revenue shortfall over the last year and a half, once the Covid pandemic began to depress ticket sales.
“But the money is coming from actual fans — not shady billionaires,” some defenders of the sales suggest. “And it guarantees the team will never leave Green Bay.”
Fans are fans, so try telling them that soliciting people’s money under the guise of public ownership actually amounts to manipulation, especially when it’s based on history that is no longer relevant. It’s a giant knockoff of those GoFundMe campaigns in which middle-class people ask for help getting that Florida vacation they’ve wanted for so long. And do we still believe there are corporations who will never leave town?
“I never cease to be surprised by our fans and the support we have,” Mark Murphy responded recently to the new landrush to buy Packers’ stock. Given the slick way this stock sale came off, I guess we should not be surprised either.