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GREEN BAY, Wis. — In any other place, they would be called souvenirs, documents suitable for framing, or even a sham. But here in the heart of Packers country, they are stock certificates that confer to the owner a microscopically thin and perhaps meaningless slice of the hometown team.
The Green Bay Packers are the only publicly owned team in the N.F.L., the rarest of rarities in a sport dominated by billionaires and the nation’s largest corporations. The team’s fans are fiercely proud of this status, which dates to 1923 when Curly Lambeau and four local businessmen incorporated and sold 1,000 shares of the team at $5 each to keep it afloat.
It is that pride that is about to be appealed to yet again. According to a filing with securities regulators in Utah, the Packers planned to issue new shares “on or around” Tuesday for about $250 each. The team hopes to raise at least $22 million after fees, about what was generated in 1997, the last time it employed the tactic.
The money raised this time will help offset some of the $143 million needed to add up to 7,000 seats and replace the scoreboard and sound system at Lambeau Field.
The question is, will fans who have closets full of Brett Favre jerseys and foam cheeseheads, as well as stock certificates hanging on the wall, shell out hundreds of dollars for more shares? The short answer is yes, if only because they cannot resist the chance to support their team and indoctrinate the next generation, too.
“We live and breathe the Packers,” said Chuck Olsen, the owner of Olsen’s Piggly Wiggly, which does a big business selling bratwursts to tailgaters on game days. “Everyone wants to be part of this, so I’ll buy a share for my grandson, who is now 1 year old.”
In an era when teams routinely beg, threaten and cajole their host cities into helping them build new stadiums, the Packers’ approach of asking their fans to contribute is refreshingly quaint.
Unlike the growing number of teams that require fans to pay tens of thousands of dollars for personal seat licenses before they can get season tickets, the Packers do not obligate anyone to buy their shares, which cost not much more than a nice jersey sold in the gift shop. (The Packers do charge ticket holders a one-time user fee to help pay for renovations, but the prices are relatively modest and the fees are refunded if they give up their tickets.)
The ability to tap their fans’ seemingly bottomless good will has helped the Packers avoid some of the civic showdowns that have raged in other N.F.L. cities. In neighboring Minnesota, for instance, the Vikings have been negotiating for years with lawmakers, who are split on whether to help the team build a new stadium and how much the public should contribute.
In Green Bay, the Packers issued stock not just in 1997, but also in 1935 and 1950 to bolster their sagging finances, and fans snapped up the shares even though they were little more than a gift to the team. They offer none of the privileges, or risks, of normal shares: they do not appreciate, are not traded on an exchange and produce no dividends. Owners get no discounts on tickets, although some merchandise is available only to shareholders. They can also attend the annual shareholders’ meeting, where they can vote on new board members and pepper management with questions.
With the economy flirting with recession and more than 4.75 million shares outstanding, the Packers are confident that their fans will line up by the thousands to buy shares again. The team currently has 112,264 shareholders.
The shareholders helped keep the team afloat for many years. But the championships of the 1960s and the N.F.L.’s decision to split its national television contracts evenly among all of its teams helped stabilize the Packers and keep them from leaving Green Bay, the smallest city in the league.
Unlike teams in New York, Chicago and other big cities, the Packers have fewer well-heeled fans and companies that will spend money on naming rights deals, multimillion-dollar sponsorships and corporate suites. In 2000, just three years after the Packers won the Super Bowl, the team was the 23rd most valuable franchise in the N.F.L., according to Forbes magazine.
So the team used all the proceeds from its 1997 share sale and the revenue from a half-penny local sales tax increase in Brown County to pay for the expansion of Lambeau Field in 2003. With more seats, restaurants and a new team Hall of Fame, the Packers’ revenue and profits grew.
This year, after winning the Super Bowl again, the Packers are the ninth most valuable franchise in the league, worth $1.089 billion, according to Forbes.