Sunday, February 6, 2011

Green Bay, WI, Owns the Green Bay Packers

...They are one of over 112,000 people to own stock in the most unusual franchise in the world's richest sports league.

The share, by any normal yardstick, is the lousiest investment imaginable. It does qualify you to buy an "I Own a Piece of the Pack" T-shirt, but by statute, no dividend can ever be paid on them. They are not traded on any public market, and cannot be sold except back to the Packers for a fraction of the original price. If the team were ever wound up (admittedly a prospect as unlikely as a snow storm in Tahiti), the proceeds would go to charity. And last but not least, being a shareholder gets you nowhere near a season ticket.

But sound financial judgement has never been the distinguishing hallmark of a sports fan. To the delirium of a small (and presently glacial) city in northern Wisconsin, the joy of Wisconsin exiles like the Wests and the quiet satisfaction of gridiron neutrals everywhere, the Packers are off to the Super Bowl...

But the most remarkable thing of all about the Green Bay Packers is that they are the property not of some billionaire owner, but of the fans themselves – more than 112,000 at the last count, and including my travel agent and her husband.

Such an arrangement is far from uncommon in Europe: think Real Madrid or Barcelona with their socios, the clubs of Germany's Bundesliga or a handful of lower division Football League clubs like Brentford (not to mention FC United of Manchester.)

But in all major league US sport, the Packers are unique – and community ownership has bred an extraordinary bond between fans and team. "There's an emotional attachment," says Mac West, "a sense of incredible pride that we play on the same field as Chicago, New York or Dallas."

Naturally, the Wests don't have season tickets. Few do. Every Packers home game since 1960 has been sold out, and the waiting list now exceeds the 73,000 capacity at Lambeau Field. So rarely do season tickets become available that applicants from the 1960s are only now starting to get them. Tickets are passed down the generations like family heirlooms; frequently they have been the thorniest issue in Wisconsin divorce suits...

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