The Green Bay Packers were the only NFC North representative among ESPN.com's Power Rankings of the Top 10 NFL owners. The Packers, who are owned by 112,120 shareholders and operated by a seven-person executive committee, placed third behind the Pittsburgh Steelers' Rooney family and Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots.
The Packers received first-place votes from three of our voters, including me. But ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton left them off his ballot because, as he told Tim Graham in an exclusive interview, "I couldn't vote for the Packers because it is a community ownership, not a normal ownership. It's not as though when one owner makes the decisions and has to stand up for the praise or criticism. Assigned the chance to vote for ownership, I felt more comfortable voting for individual owners or family owners."
My feeling is that the Packers' structure eliminates some of the worst traits of professional sports owners while, at least in their case, not sacrificing operational efficiency.
Shareholders don't receive dividends, so there are no suspicions -- real or imagined -- of owners siphoning team revenue for personal profit. The team's finances literally are an open book, and surpluses are diverted into a reserve fund that is valued at more than $100 million. And there is no evidence of anything but appropriate spending on football matters, be it the five-year contracts recently extended to general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy or the dozen or so market-level deals handed out to the team's pending free agents in recent years.
(The Packers' annual tip-toe around veteran free agency is a function of Thompson's football philosophy, not financial restraints.)
And despite the lack of a single and dynamic leader/owner, the Packers are among the most professionally operated franchises in the league. Their renovation of Lambeau Field made it one of the league's most desired (and profitable) stadiums. There is a clear division of labor between president/CEO Mark Murphy, Thompson and McCarthy. All teams have warts, but under their current structure, the Packers have fewer than most.
The Chicago Bears' McCaskey family was the only other NFC North ownership group to receive votes. I did not vote for them, and they finished tied for No. 13.
I don't think the McCaskeys have been bad owners as much as they have been underwhelming. Team president Ted Phillips has steadied the ship since taking over day-to-day operations, but I would point toward last year's desecration in Forbes magazine for evidence of how much room the franchise has to grow.