The Green Bay Packers is unique in the NFL for one fascinating reason. The team doesn’t technically have a single owner, or a handful of partners, like every other NFL team. Instead, the team is owned by hundreds of thousands of fans, who all bought a piece of the Green Bay Packers in a public stock sale. Want all the details on who owns the Green Bay Packers and how public ownership works? Here’s what you need to know.
Who owns the Green Bay Packers? The fans
As the Packers website explains, “Green Bay Packers Inc., has been a publicly owned, nonprofit corporation since Aug. 18, 1923, when original articles of incorporation were filed with Wisconsin’s secretary of state.” Fans have supported the team by buying shares during five stock sales. (Those sales happened in 1923, 1935, 1950, 1997, and 2011.) And as the website notes, “Today, 361,169 people (representing 5,009,562 shares) are owners of the iconic franchise.”
The Conversation reports that owning stock in the Green Bay Packers isn’t like holding stock in a regular company. Sports Illustrated notes, “No lucky Green Bay fan will get rich off the team’s next Super Bowl win because the stock pays no dividends and isn’t tradeable or saleable.” The Wall Street Journal called it the worst stock in America. Deadspin referred to owning stock as a “feel-good scam.” Plus, Deadspin notes that if the team ever gets sold, shareholders “will not receive a slice of the purchasing price, or even get their initial investments back.” But as fans will tell you, that’s not the whole story.
What do shareholders in the Green Bay Packers get?
The team isn’t currently offering stock for sale. But a single share cost $250 in the last offering. And buying one gave a shareholder a souvenir certificate, the option to purchase shareholders-only merchandise, and an invitation to the annual shareholders meeting at Lambeau Field during training camp. As Sports Illustrated notes, Packers shareholders can also “vote to elect Green Bay’s board of directors and a seven-member executive committee that represents the team at league meetings.” However, shareholders “have no real say in team decisions, football or otherwise.”
But we can think of a couple of other benefits, too. The Conversation explains, “Although fans earn nothing financially by owning stock, this unique arrangement does ensure that profits don’t go into the pocket of one or a handful of owners. Profits go instead to Green Bay Packers, Inc.” Fans also gain the assurance that their team won’t leave Green Bay. (The Conversation characterizes Green Bay as “the smallest market of all major American professional sports leagues.”) That’s a very big deal to many fans.
What rules of ownership do shareholders have to follow?
Deadspin reports that when fans purchase shares of the Green Bay Packers, they suddenly have to follow some surprising rule — at least technically. “You don’t get to criticize the Packers, or other teams, or any NFL employee,” the publication explains. The NFL’s rules on ownership are drafted and aimed “at the typical multimillionaire owner,” Deadspin explains. But they apply just as much to all of the shareholders who own a piece of the Green Bay Packers.
The league doesn’t monitor message boards or comments sections for negative messages. But the rule can affect journalists, for instance, who have to criticize NFL figures on occasion as part of their jobs. For those writers, owning a piece of the Green Bay Packers would constitute a conflict of interest. As it turns out, purchasing shares of an NFL team can come with some interesting ethical dilemmas.
The NFL won’t let any other team follow the Green Bay Packers
Sports Illustrated reports that at least some people wish that fans could take advantage of more public-ownership opportunities in the NFL. After all, the publication characterizes public ownership as “common” among “European football clubs like fan-owned FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.” But don’t hold your breath for more stock sales. You won’t see them happening anytime soon.
The Green Bay Packers is the only fan-owned, nonprofit team in the NFL. And as The Conversation notes, it will definitely stay that way. The 1960 constitution of the NFL has a “Green Bay Rule.” That rule states 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.” In other words, the Green Bay Packers is grandfathered in as the only publicly-owned team in the league.
Why Packers fans love owning a piece of their team
Green Bay Packers fans love that their team is publicly owned, even if the idea seems to run counter to most people’s politics. The Conversation reports that even though most Americans hate the concept of communism, you could argue that “the principle virtue of the Green Bay Packers” is based on “a communist idea: collective ownership of the means of production.” The publication notes that the Packers organization “still functions within capitalism.”
Even though it doesn’t have an owner in the traditional sense, the team still engages in the same market-based exchanges as other teams. However, according to The Conversation, “The Packers do show, however, how one communist principle might float within a capitalist sea. Without an owner, more people overall benefit. The team benefits first to be sure. But its interest happens to be the first interest of fans.” Fans know and appreciate that.