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The best town in pro sports is also the smallest: Green Bay, Wisconsin, home of the Packers. The Dallas Cowboys aren’t America’s team, the Green Bay Packers are. And not just because of their championship history. The Packers are owned by the fans, not a wealthy owner operating with a profit-at-all-costs (PAAC) philosophy. The Green Bay Packers are a publicly-owned non-profit with a unique stock ownership structure. Green Bay’s bylaws state that the Packers are “a community project, intended to promote community welfare.” What a refreshing approach.

“It makes them an example,” according to ESPN’s Patrick Hruby. “A case study. A working model for a better way to organize and administer pro sports.”

The Packers have sold out more than 300 consecutive home games and have more than 80,000 names on their season-ticket waiting list. Despite being one of the most successful teams on the field, the Packers’ ticket prices are among the lowest in the league. Unlike other NFL stadiums that have advertisements everywhere the eyes can see, Lambeau Field is relatively free of corporate sales pitches. The only ads you see are on the scoreboard. As a whole, the stadium provides today’s fans a similar view to what fans saw in the ’60′s.
(See “The Green Bay Packers Have the Best Owners in Football“).

“We’re owned by this community,” says Packers’ CEO Mark Murphy, a former NFL player and players’ union leader. “We can’t be perceived as gouging the fans.”

Unfortunately, the Packers’ ownership structure can’t be duplicated.

The National Football League (NFL) has formally banned any more Green Bay Packers-type ownership structures. Former commissioner Pete Rozelle changed the NFL constitution in 1960 to prevent another franchise from going to the Green Bay model. Article V, Section 4 of the NFL constitution, the “Green Bay Rule,” says that “charitable organizations and/or corporations not organized for profit and not now a member of the league may not hold membership in the National Football League.”

That’s a shame. The Green Bay system works beautifully, and ideally would be the norm in all pro sports leagues. It shouldn’t be mandated, but it should be allowed as an option.

“We could probably double home game revenue if we charged New England Patriot prices, but we have to think of our blue-collar base,” says Jason Wied, Green Bay’s vice president of administration and general counsel. “From time to time we make decisions that may not be in our best interest but are in the best interests of the community.”

Even former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue appreciates the Green Bay model, calling Green Bay’s approach “moral purity or economic objectivity. Whatever it is, it is useful.”

“The fundamental problem in pro sports is that we’ve given free reign to owners through a self-regulated monopoly system — including anti-trust exemptions — which allows owners to pursue a profit-at-all-costs agenda at the expense of fans,” says League of Fans founder, Ralph Nader. “This system has resulted in owners playing one city off another in the quest for new taxpayer-funded stadiums and other freeloading. A community ownership model, like the Green Bay Packers’, works. It’s a better way to structure and administer professional sports. It should become an optional mainstay of sports policy in this country.”

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans

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