Green Bay Packers Game – Green Bay, WI
The “frozen tundra” definitely lives up to its name. Large walls of snow swept across the highway as we made our way to the NFL mecca, Lambeau Field in Green Bay, WI. In what seemed like a scene from Star Wars, the view through the windshield seemed as if we were traveling in hyperspace. Only this time, instead of avoiding intergalactic super villains, we were heading toward the historical heroes of America’s favorite sport.
The Green Bay Packers are one of the NFL’s oldest teams, and have been the only remaining team since 1921 that has not changed their name or their location. With jerseys provided by the Indian Packing Company, the appropriately named Packers have been the historical and legendary benchmark for every other NFL team. Lambeau Field, built at its current location in 1957, kept the name of the old stadium – “City Stadium”. It has long been a pilgrimage destination for football enthusiasts, as many fans view this area as one of the most important places for the game of football. The stadium bills itself as “hallowed ground”, gives tours year round, and even sells its own “Lambeau Field” merchandise and apparel. Both the stadium and the team are part of the NFL lore, and couldn’t be farther from college football. Or so we thought.
On this trip, we’ve been to college football games in Tempe, Boise, and Lincoln, and gone to an NFL game in Denver. Each game had their own unique experience, but there was a marked difference between collegiate and professional football game experiences. And not just from the quality of play on the field; the main differences come from the types of fans in the crowd (generally white collar vs. blue collar), the way in which those fans root for their team (coordinated cheering vs. directed & achievement-based cheering ), and the atmosphere in the stadium (history & youthful exuberance vs. stadium induced amusement). Most fans are swayed to prefer one level of football over the other for some or all of those reasons. Fans are drawn to college football because of familial ties, history, rivalries, education, and the game-day experience. Fans of the NFL are drawn to the quality of play, the NFL stadium experience, location, and yes, even fantasy football. Fans can and do support both obviously, but just not in the same ways, and this becomes very apparent on game days.
These differences usually hold true, which is what makes game day at Lambeau Field so unique. From the stadium, to the fans, to the atmosphere in and around the stadium, you can close your eyes and imagine that you’re at a big time college football game. But then out trot the Green Bay Packers and another NFL team, and the script is figuratively flipped and you’re watching high quality football at an NFL game.
The Packers were 14-1 going into the last game of their season, and were coming off of a Super Bowl championship from the prior season. Their spectacular season gave quarterback Aaron Rodgers a deserved (albeit disappointing for yours truly) day off, and gave backup QB Matt Flynn the start against the Detroit Lions. In what turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable high scoring affair, the Packers beat the Lions 45-41, helped by 6 TDs by Flynn. The game saw the 6 TDs, combined with 480 passing yards, set new franchise records for Flynn. In addition, it was the first time in NFL history opposing quarterbacks each threw for 400-plus yards and five-plus touchdowns in a game (Lions QB Matthew Stafford threw for 520 yards and 5 TDs). The teams’ combined 971 net yards passing broke the record of 906 set earlier this season in a Week 1 game between New England and Miami. While not exemplifying the best defenses in the NFL, this game certainly showed viewers the highest level of offensive execution and talent that is possible with NFL players.
So why did we still leave Lambeau Field thinking that we had just gone to a college football game?
Because like many colleges, the Green Bay Packers were built and maintained by their community. Green Bay feels like a college town. Lambeau Field feels like a college stadium. And the fans – with their overalls, cheeseheads, in-stadium polka, and homemade signs – feel like college fans. The level of support borders on evangelical, and is seen as a birthright by many, similar to how college alumni feel. Tickets are notoriously hard to get, and the wait list for season tickets is starting to rival the average life span for an American. The Packers are the only non-profit, community-owned major league professional sports team in the United States, and Green Bay remains the smallest US city to host a professional sports franchise. That small town mentality keeps the entire fans base together, and gives the team its constant identity as underdogs overcoming the elements (small market, frozen weather, etc.).
Because of their unique ownership status, that Packers have sold stock to shareholders, and have continually leaned on the community for support. The Board of Directors are voted into placement by shareholders, and they manage the club from there. Unlike a traditionally bought stock from a public company, Packers stock has some very interesting attributes. Their current stoke sale costs $250 a share, pays no dividends, benefits from no earnings, isn’t tradeable, and has no securities-law protection. But buyers can’t get enough, and Green Bay Packers stock is selling through the roof. More than 250,000 shares have been sold since the first share offering in 15 years was announced on Dec. 6. Demand has been so high that the Pakcers expanded the offering by 30,000 shares. When the sale ends, the Packers will make around $70 million.
Why would buyers be interested in stock that has none of the advantages of traditional stock, and where buyers are warned that they “should not purchase common stock with the purpose of making a profit.”?
Because it gives them a vote. Because of history. Because it’s their town. Because it’s their team.
College Alumni: Sound familiar?