MILWAUKEE -- The Green Bay Packers announced plans Thursday to add 6,600 new seats at venerable Lambeau Field in time for the 2013 season, part of a self-funded $130 million project that will be welcome news to the 81,000 fans on the waiting list for season tickets.
The Packers also had fans buzzing by suggesting they might pay for the project through a stock sale that would give even more people a chance to be a part-owner of one of the NFL's most storied franchises.
"We're excited to begin work on the expansion of Lambeau Field," Packers President Mark Murphy said, noting that additional seats will mean more game-day crowd noise. He also said the community will benefit though construction jobs and having more fans in town for the games.
The seats will be in four levels in the south end zone. The prices haven't been set yet but are expected to range between the current cost for bowl seats, where the top price is $87, and club seats, where the top price is $313. The project also includes a new rooftop viewing terrace that club-seat holders can use on game days, along with new gates, elevators and access points for people with disabilities.
Lambeau Field is the oldest continually operating NFL stadium, and the third-oldest continually operating venue in major sports behind Chicago's Wrigley Field and Boston's Fenway Park. The stadium has undergone numerous renovations, updates and additions since opening in 1957 with 32,500 seats; it now has 73,128.
The new seats will be distributed through a seniority system. Current season-ticket holders will get first access with a chance to trade their existing seats, and priority goes to those who have held tickets the longest. After that, fans on the waiting list will finally get a chance they've spent decades waiting for.
Nathan Bitzer, 35, has been on the list since 1996, when he was somewhere around No. 33,000. In 15 years, he has moved up to about 26,000, he said.
"I'm hopeful," said Bitzer, who lives in St. Paul, Minn. "But I'll probably be dead for 200 or 300 years before my name comes up. It's more just to affirm my fandom with the team."
Bitzer joked that he also put his 3- and 4-year-old daughters on the list because "they can choose everything in life but they can't choose not to be Packers fans."
The team said it was considering raising money through a stock sale, which would be the team's fifth and first since it sold shares for $200 each in 1997. More than 111,500 people own shares, which the team prohibits from being resold.
Green Bay is the NFL's only publicly owned team.
At a shareholder meeting last month, Packers officials highlighted the team's strong financial performance in 2010-11. The team reported a $12 million profit from operations for 2010-2011, up $2.2 million from the previous year. The overall net income was $17.1 million -- a jump of nearly $12 million over last year, due in large part to improved performance by investments.
The Packers quoted a study that said the expansion is expected to employ about 1,600 workers over the next two years, and they predict the new seats will translate into about $11 million of spending in Brown County from non-residents.
The team had previously announced a plan to install new Diamond Vision video boards in time for the start of next year's season. That $12 million project is being funding jointly by the Packers and the Green Bay/Brown County Professional Football Stadium District as well as user fees.
The most recent addition at Lambeau was a $295 million project that began in 2001 to add 12,032 seats as well as the popular atrium, an expanded Pro Shop and several new food and entertainment options. The project included a half-cent county sales tax to raise $160 million and made 4,000 tickets per game available to county residents only beginning in 2003.
That tax is set to expire in the next several years, depending on the economy.