Packers offer stock for 1st time since '97

MADISON, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers have an MVP candidate in quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a Super Bowl championship won just 10 months ago and an undefeated team making a run toward another title for Titletown.

The Packers now have hundreds of new owners, too.

The team kicked off a rare stock sale Tuesday to help pay for another round of renovations at Lambeau Field, giving pretty much anyone a shot at becoming an NFL owner for $250 per share, plus a $25 handling charge.

Sarah Johnson, 34, of Portage said it took her nearly 20 minutes to complete what should have been a 30-second process, but it was worth to wait.

"I could have just as well thrown my money out the window for what I get for it, other than a feel-good," she said. "I just feel like the Packer organization has sort of a nostalgia and an excitement around it other franchises don't have. Just to say you're part of that on some level is neat to me."

The team received 1,600 orders in the first 11 minutes of the sale, said Packers President Mark Murphy, who had to reassure fans the Packers website was still working. Team spokesman Aaron Popkey said he did not have any sales data as of early Tuesday afternoon.

"It's just a question of volume," Murphy said. "Fans are excited about this opportunity. We just encourage fans to be patient."

It is the fifth stock sale in the Packers' 92-year history and the first in 14 years.

The NFL's only publicly-owned team offered 250,000 shares through Feb. 29, subject to an extension. The stock isn't an investment in the traditional sense: Its value doesn't increase, there are no dividends, it has virtually no re-sale value and it won't give buyers a leg up on the 93,000 people on the waiting list for season tickets.

The fine print on the Packers' stock sale website says NFL rules prohibit shareholders from betting on any NFL game; violators could face up to $5,000 in fines.

Popkey and NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in emails to The Associated Press that shareholder betting has never been a problem in the past.

What buyers do get is a piece of paper declaring them a team owner, voting rights and the right to attend the annual stockholder meeting at Lambeau each summer before training camp. Oh, and they get access to a special line of shareholder apparel, too.

The economy is still lurching along, but that probably won't make much difference to the cheesehead nation, among the league's most dedicated fans. The Packers' timing is perfect, too. Christmas is only a few weeks off and the Packers are hot, hot, hot: The defending champions clinched the NFC North title this past weekend and look like a favorite again with a 12-0 record with four games left to play in the regular season.

Plus, the cause is nothing less than spiffing up the team's hallowed frozen tundra.

The team hopes to generate at least $22 million through the stock sale to help defray the cost of a $143 million renovation project at Lambeau. Plans call for adding 6,700 additional seats, new high-definition video screens and a new entrance by 2013.

Before the sale, there were 112,205 Packers stockholders who own a total of 4.75 million shares. The latest sale did have restrictions: Stock can only be purchased by individuals, not businesses, and there's a 200-share cap, a figure that includes any stock purchased during the last sale in 1997.

The offering is limited to people with addresses in the U.S., Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Soldiers and U.S. residents who are currently overseas have to use their U.S. addresses.

The Packers have been a publicly owned nonprofit corporation since 1923. The team held its first stock sale that year, followed by sales in 1935 and 1950 that helped keep the franchise afloat even as other small-markets teams were sinking.

Back in 1997, the last time the Packers offered stock, then-team president Bob Harlan was looking for ways to cover stadium renovation costs. He recalled that other owners balked, worried that the Packers would use the money to compensate their coaches or improve their roster in a way other teams couldn't. It was only after commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney argued in favor of the idea that the proposal passed. Rooney said the Packers deserved unanimous support because they were a vital part of NFL history.

Some 400,000 shares went on sale that year for $200 apiece. About 120,000 were sold, raising $24 million.

Ryan Vaubel, 35, a lifelong Packer fan from Sun Prairie, Wis., said he can't justify spending $275 on a piece of paper. But he understands the Packers need money; he still remembers when the team sold chunks of Lambeau sod following the team's 1997 Super Bowl victory.

"I'm not personally disappointed. All you can say is you have a piece of paper," Vaubel said. "It's more or less just a way to donate money to the team so they can raise more revenue and remain competitive on the field."

Nicole Kappus Solheid, 37, of Apple Valley, Minn., grew up in Chippewa Falls, Wis. She said she was strongly considering buying a share. For her, it's a matter of pride; her husband is a Viking fan.

"I'm still from Wisconsin and I'm still very proud of where I come from," she said. "I'd be very proud to put that stock option up on my wall and show my neighbors. It's just to be a part of (the Packers) legacy."