GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers haven't been sacked by the recession despite a rough season on the field and significant financial challenges off it, but officials remain wary of the future.
The NFL's only publicly owned franchise turned a $20.1 million operating profit last year, according to team officials. Taking into account significant investment losses, the Packers still managed $4 million in net income for the fiscal year ending March 31.
That's down $19.4 million from the previous year -- but the numbers remain black, not red, and that's more than can be said for many businesses these days.
"We have been able to weather it OK," Packers treasurer Larry Weyers said. "We're still a strong institution and we still have the strength to support football operations and maintain the quality of our football team."
But Weyers added: "It's obviously somewhat concerning whenever your profits dropped off as much as ours did this year."
Future economic challenges have team officials even more concerned. They see player costs rising faster than local revenues, a trend that makes Packers brass likely to join other NFL owners in taking a firm stance against the players' union in upcoming collective bargaining negotiations.
Owners voted to opt out of the existing agreement after the 2010 season, saying the deal is too favorable to players, who currently receive approximately 60 percent of applicable revenues.
Unless a new deal is struck, the league will have no salary cap in 2010 -- and, in the worst-case scenario, a work stoppage after that.
"It's a real concern that our player costs continue to grow at a rate much higher than our revenue's growing," Packers president and chief executive Mark Murphy said. "It's not sustainable, and it's the reason we opted out of the collective bargaining agreement."
The Packers will issue a full report to shareholders this summer, but team officials offered an overview of the team's finances to The Associated Press and a handful of other media outlets this week.
The Packers couldn't top their big year in 2007-08, when Brett Favre was still setting records in a Packers uniform, the team hosted a pair of playoff games and the economy appeared solid.
But given the subsequent economic downturn, the messy drama of Favre's unretirement saga and subsequent trade to the New York Jets, and a disappointing 6-10 season last year, things could have been worse.
The Packers took in $247.9 million in total revenue, a 3 percent increase over the previous year. That figure was boosted by a 9 percent increase in money from national sources, offsetting a $5 million decrease in local revenue pinned largely on lagging souvenir shop sales.
Expenses were up 4 percent to $227.8 million. That includes $138.7 million in player costs, an increase of almost 11 percent from the previous year.
Rising player costs and sagging local revenue are disturbing trends to Packers officials. Since 2006, Murphy says 80 percent of the Packers' increased revenues have gone to players.
And Murphy says other teams servicing significant debt on new stadiums are in even worse shape.
"I think that's one of the things that we all hope to correct in the current negotiations," Murphy said. "We want to reach an agreement with the players. We want a new agreement that's fair to the players and allows us to grow the game."
The Packers' profit from operations was $20.1 million, down from $21.4 million the previous year. The franchise's net income -- including a substantial drop in investment income last year, plus taxes and other considerations -- was $4 million, down from $23.4 million the previous year.
The team hasn't had to lay off or furlough any full-time employees, although some part-time workers were let go because of lagging sales in the Lambeau Field souvenir shop.
And while long-term plans to develop retail facilities around Lambeau Field are moving slowly, the Packers have gone forward with plans to renovate their practice field.
Other items of note:
- Murphy said there was no way to estimate the financial impact of last year's Favre saga. While noting that the team sold plenty of Aaron Rodgers jerseys last year, Murphy acknowledged that Favre's success was a significant boost to souvenir shop sales in 2007.
"A lot of people thought it was Brett's last season. They've been thinking that for a while," Murphy said, laughing. "But they really thought it that year."
- Murphy said the team is pursuing a partnership with the state lottery and a company willing to pay to put its logo on practice jerseys, a pair of new sponsorship areas recently approved by the league.
- The team's season ticket renewal rate fell by a fraction but remains a staggering 99.4 percent. That means 192 people who put their names on the team's waiting list in the 1970s will be able to buy season tickets; most years, 75 people or fewer come off the list, which currently numbers approximately 81,000.
- The Packers have not opted out of the league's employee pension program. But Murphy said the team might eventually switch from the current defined-benefit program to a defined-contribution program similar to a 401(k).
- In the event of a future work stoppage or other economic challenges, the Packers have a $127.5 million "preservation fund" in reserve.
Above all, Murphy said, the economy won't keep general manager Ted Thompson from making moves to field a competitive team.
"I think that's one of our real advantages, and one of the main reasons we've been so successful," Murphy said. "We give football operations, and Ted in particular, the resources they need to be successful. Even though our profits were down this year, we're not reducing in any way the support we provide them."