To say the Green Bay Packers are an outlier in American sports is something of an understatement. The Wisconsin squad represents the only publicly-owned, non-profit team in a major sports league in the United States. In a sense, star QB Aaron Rodgers and new head coach Matt LaFleur are public employees.
Thousands of people own the Packers. Their fans regularly pitch in to clear snow and perform general maintenance tasks. It’s a feel-good situation, for the most part. The catch? Those Packers shares are totally worthless.
Who really owns the Green Bay Packers?
The Packers are owned, in the legal sense, by 360,760 shareholders. This unorthodox situation came about mainly out of necessity, rather than ideals.
In 1923, the Packers had one shortcoming — they were broke. On the verge of collapse, the team took advantage of their 1911 founding date and a quirk in the NFL bylaws. With no hope of finding a friendly investor to buy the team, they went with the most dedicated revenue source possible — their fans.
The franchise sold 1,000 shares at $5 apiece, along with a promise that each shareholder would buy at least six season tickets. More stock offerings happened in 1935, 1950, 1997, and 2011.
The Packers were grandfathered into the NFL with this unique ownership system, despite it clashing with ownership limitations placed on all new teams. In the 1980s, the NFL made the limits even more stifling. A maximum of 32 owners, with at least one owner holding a minimum of 30%, remains the league standard to this day.
Why fans knowingly buy worthless Packers shares
The Packers’ dedicated fans are unique in the league. Public, non-profit organizations aren’t allowed to enter the NFL. While that seems mean-spirited, it’s also worth noting that Packers fans have little to gain themselves from owning a piece of the team.
Packers stock is functionally worthless.
The Packers label their slivers of ownership “common stock.” It pays out no dividends. No equity interest. No ability to trade it. It’s largely a gesture from fans towards the team, a vote of confidence.
That isn’t to say that there are no perks at all. Shareholders get invites to a yearly meeting with the front office and access to shareholder-only merchandise.
One common criticism of these shares is the lack of traditional voting rights. No one person is allowed to hold more than 200,000 shares in the first place, but there isn’t much reason to own more than one. Proportional ownership gives no additional rights.
There are periodic surges of power, however. Stockholders gain access to voting rights on certain major decisions, such as appointing members to the Board of Directors. These votes are rare, but crucial to the future of the franchise.
How a non-profit fares against privately-owned teams
So how does this collective ownership and management method play out where it matters — on the gridiron? Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the answer.
The organization has won 13 league championships and nine NFL championships before the Super Bowl era. They have four Super Bowl titles so far.
Additionally, they were the home of arguably the greatest NFL head coach of all time, Vince Lombardi. Few NFL franchises come close to this level of success, as well as attracting so much historical top-level talent.
Their current status is slightly mixed. On the one hand, the Packers tied down the generational talent, Aaron Rodgers. On the other hand, they’ve only won the Super Bowl once in the Rodgers era.
He was a backup behind the great Brett Favre from 2005-2008. But the potential best QB in the game only getting one ring from 2008-2019 implies that Green Bay isn’t building the best teams possible around him.
The Packers’ feel-good non-profit vibes are clearly capable of success. Their major win over a strong Seattle Seahawks squad proves that. Let’s see if these 360,760 owners can will their way to a 14th Super Bowl win in 2020.