Despite being one of the most historic franchises in the history of the NFL, the Green Bay Packers never should have existed, or rather, they never should have made it past their first few seasons.
Changing ownership in the first five years, stadium catastrophes, and a ruined national economy, nearly rendered the team bankrupt. They've also grazed the edge of financial ruin on more than one occasion.
Unlike the other 31 teams in the National Football League, the Packers hail from a town of just over 300,000. Diminutive in comparison to even the second smallest NFL market Buffalo, with a population of just over 1 million. They aren't supported by tax revenue, and they aren't owned by a wealthy businessman.
Then how have they managed to stay afloat? What has kept this team going?
Free of tycoon ownership, producing more Hall of Famers, and winning more titles than almost any other NFL team, the Packers remain one of the most successful and longest running franchises in NFL history.
What makes this team so special? What is it that endears them to their fans so strongly? Let's take a look at what makes the Green Bay Packers the unique powerhouse they are today.
Years of History
Every team has its history and quirks. The Steelers have their Terrible Towel, the Dallas Cowboys their famous Cheerleaders, but there is something special about Green Bay history.
The Green Bay Packers are not the oldest team in the NFL. That top spot goes to the Arizona Cardinals and the Chicago Bears, both founding members of the American Professional Football Association.
However, Green Bay, who joined the APFA in 1921, is the third oldest team, and longest running NFL franchise to never be sold to a new city. They are now, and have always been, the Green Bay Packers, from Green Bay, Wisconsin.
The Packers began in 1919 when friends, and former high school rivals, George Whitney Calhoun and Earl "Curly" Lambeau hatched the scheme to form a new football team.
Financing a Football Team
With no money to start a new team, Curly Lambeau went to the Indian Packing Company looking for a sponsorship. The Indian Packing Company granted Lambeau $500 to buy uniforms, on the condition that the team is named after the company. Thus, the Green Bay Packers were born.
In 1920, Acme Packing bought Indian Packing and took over the team sponsorship for two months, until it was discovered that the company was deeply in debt. It looked like the end for the Packers. However, the team managed to struggle forward, until 1922 when torrential rain threatened a last-ditch attempt at fundraising.
The fundraiser game, to be played against Duluth, was very nearly canceled due to rain. Andrew Turnbull, a local newspaperman, promised that if the game went on, and the Packers managed a victory, he would save the team.
They won in a shutout, 10-0.
True to his word, Andrew Turnbull sponsored the team, becoming the first president of the Green Bay Packers. To help bankroll the operation, he sold actual shares of the team to Green Bay residents at $5 per share, leading to the most unique ownership scheme in the NFL today.
In 1922, it seemed they were saved, but things weren't going to be so simple for the team from small-town Wisconsin.
For ten years, they continued to stack up championships, boasting a record of 29 consecutive winning home games that still stands to this day. Green Bay was on its way to greatness.
However, tragically in 1931, a fan fell from the stands. Also, as people who fall from stands are known to do, he sued the team for $5,000.
The team had an insurance policy, so the suit didn't raise too many anxieties, until it was revealed that the insurance company carrying the Packers policy had gone out of business.
This was the height of the Great Depression, and the insurance company for the Green Bay Packers was one of the thousands of business casualties after the 1929 stock market crash. For Green Bay, this spelled more than a disaster. Not only had they lost the money they'd already paid into the insurance policy, but now they would have to pay the $5000 (about $80,000 in 2018 dollars) to the injured fan.
They were in dire straits. The team had no way of paying the debt, and while they managed to keep the team going for another two years, it soon became clear that something would have to be done.
So the team board took a page from Andrew Turnbull's book. To save the franchise, they would turn to the fans. It was a gamble, as this was the Depression, after all.
Most people simply didn't have the money to spare, but it was the last chance for this team. They'd come back from the brink of ruin before. Maybe they could do it again.
In 1934, the Green Bay Football Corporation sold shares in the Packers for $25 per share or a little over $450 in today's money. It never should have worked, but it did.
The residents of Green Bay rallied and managed to purchase over $100,000 worth of stock. Where most teams had one or two owners, the Green Bay Packers had over a thousand.
Suddenly, the Packers were literally Green Bay's team, owned by the fans, who did not then, and do not now, receive any dividends on their shares.
It would have been easy to make the share sale a one-time event, eventually having a wealthy owner come in and buy shares back from the populace. After all, wealthy owners seemed to be working for the rest of the NFL. Every other team is owned by one wealthy tycoon or another. The Packers decided to go the other direction!
They went on to sell shares a total of three times after the 1934 sale, in 1950, 1997, and 2011. The shares are non-transferable except between immediate family members, and cannot be resold. No one owner is allowed to own more than 200,000 shares of the Packers, so there is no such thing as a "controlling member".
Fan owners are entitled to attend the annual shareholders meeting at Lambeau stadium, but other than that, there aren't any monetary benefits. The shares don't pay dividends and don't entitle holders to tickets.
So why does the structure work?
The People's Team
Green Bay has played to a sold-out stadium in every home game since the 1960's.
The waiting list for season tickets is decades long, with over 100,000 people still waiting, some of them literally since birth. In 2011, the scramble for shares was so frantic, that the Packers had to release 30,000 extra shares to meet demand.
How can the franchise sell a stock that pays no dividends, and has none of the monetary benefits of traditional stock?
They've managed to capitalize on something priceless, and as American as it gets: small town loyalty. Green Bay is a town of just over 300,000, surrounded on all sides by miles of farmland. Hardly the sprawling metropolis we typically associate with NFL teams.
However, it is that small town culture that endeared the Packers to their fans in the first place. Fan ownership means that there is a real truth behind the term "our team". Even for those who don't currently own stock, there is the idea that they could.
The team truly belongs to the people of Green Bay, and to some extent, the people of Wisconsin.
More than Just Team Spirit
Brett Favre, in his Hall of Fame acceptance speech, mentioned that the city took care of him and his wife, Deanna, when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2004.
A member of the Packers Fan Hall of Fame, Jim Becker, sold blood to pay for his season tickets.
The mere existence of the Fan Hall of Fame, unique in the league, is a testament to the fervor of Green Bay Packers fans. Included in its ranks is a nun from Elm Grove, a Purple Heart recipient from Sheboygan, and a mother from Menomonie.
For the Packers, the love between franchise and fans appears to go both ways.
The loyalty is deeply rooted in location as well.
Because the team is owned jointly by some 360,000 shareholders, and moving the team would require a majority vote, it is unlikely the team is going anywhere soon. So unlike other NFL teams, which are largely transient and subject to the whims of their wealthy owners, the Green Bay Packers belong, now and probably always, to the city of Green Bay.
Titles for Days
We would be remiss if we didn't mention that the Green Bay Packers might be one of the greatest teams in NFL history. We know, everyone thinks their team is the greatest (looking at you, Patriots fans), but there is something quantifiable of Packer greatness.
They carry 13 championship titles, more than any other team, and including four Super Bowl Championships.
How can they have four Super Bowl championships, but 13 championship titles you might be asking? For you newer and younger sports fans, remember that the Packers are the third oldest team in the NFL, and nearly fifty years older than the Super Bowl itself.
In 1929, 1930, and 1931, the Packers won the league based on standings alone. 1929 gave them a nearly perfect season, with a 12-0-1 record.
1936, '39, '44, '61, '62, and '65, the Packers won the league championships, in the pre-Super Bowl days.
Once the Super Bowl was introduced in 1966, the Packers went on to win Super Bowl I and II before clinching the XXXI and XLV.
Add that to their three NFC championships and eighteen division titles, and it's no wonder they are touted as one of the greatest teams in football history.
After all, how many teams can say that the highest team honor in football is named after their legendary coach?
Hall of Fame
Then, of course, there is their record number of Hall of Fame inductees.
The Packers have produced an unprecedented number of legendary players and coaches, trailing only their rival, the Chicago Bears, in the number of inductees.
The Packers can boast 30 Hall of Famers, 25 of whom were inducted as Packers.
Their Hall of Famers include:
It's not hard to see why Packers fans wear their colors with such pride. With so many titles and legendary star players, they would be hard pressed not to.
Green Bay Packers: A Team Above
The Green Bay Packers are one of the oldest NFL teams in existence and are one of three teams that began a legacy back in 1921. Many teams have managed league championships. Many NFL teams can claim at least one Super Bowl win, and every team has contributed players to the hall of fame.
As long as the Green Bay Packers are owned by their own fans however, they will be unique among every team in the NFL.
While all NFL teams command some modicum of local pride, it is Green Bay and their beloved Packers that have earned the title of the People’s Team.
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