Packers raise $67M in stock offering

MILWAUKEE -- When teams like the St. Louis Rams and Minnesota Vikings want new or upgraded stadiums, they face all sorts of financing hurdles, from skeptical civic leaders to tightfisted taxpayers and lawmakers -- and sometimes all of the above.

It's not that complicated in Titletown.

In a clear example of how rabid their cheesehead fans are, the Green Bay Packers have raised $67 million the past six weeks by selling shares of stock for $250 apiece. The stock has no cash value, but it does grant shareholders the official privilege of calling themselves owners of the NFL's only publicly owned team.

"This was an opportunity that we were not going to pass up," said Connie Overmier, 60, a Packers fan and Wisconsin native who lives in Ossian, Ind. "It's the Packers. I want to be an owner. I want to be a part of them."

Other teams can only wish their financial issues were as easy to resolve. The Rams just rejected a $124 million proposal from St. Louis officials to make stadium improvements that would have cost taxpayers about $60 million, and the Vikings are currently wrangling with Minnesota leaders over a new $975 million stadium that could involve nearly $550 million in taxpayer contributions.

When the Packers decided to upgrade Lambeau Field -- a $143 million effort to add 6,700 additional seats, high-definition video screens and a new entrance by next year -- they resolved not to ask for a single taxpayer dime.

Instead, they reverted back to the same strategy that has helped keep the Packers afloat several times in team history -- a stock sale. The latest offering wrapped up Wednesday. More than 268,000 shares were sold, bringing in millions.

"I was really pleased with the way our fans responded," Mark Murphy, the team's president and CEO, said Thursday. "I was a little surprised, to be honest, but on the other hand I'm never surprised by the passion and loyalty of our fans."

The Packers added more than 250,000 new shareholders and now has more than 360,000 part-owners.

Fans have said spending $250 on a stock share isn't much different from spending hundreds on team jerseys or other paraphernalia. Others love that they're helping their team stay strong in the league's smallest market.

The Packers initially offered 250,000 shares for sale starting Dec. 6. But the allotment went quickly, with 185,000 shares alone sold within the first 48 hours. So the team made another 30,000 available.

About half the sales came from Wisconsin. Sales were also brisk in the home states of two of the team's top rivals, the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings.

Packers stock isn't like regular stock. Its value doesn't increase, there are no dividends, it has virtually no re-sale value and it doesn't give buyers any advantage over the 93,000 people on the waiting list for season tickets.

What buyers do get is a piece of paper declaring them a team owner and conferring rights to attend and vote at the annual stockholder meeting, which is held at Lambeau Field each summer before training camp. They also get access to a special line of shareholder apparel.

Overmier, the Packers fan and new owner, said she hasn't had a moment of buyer's remorse. She and her husband own more than 600 pieces of Packers paraphernalia -- pillows, stuffed animals, even a birdhouse -- and even with her husband out of work for 2½ years, she said they had to add a stock share to their collection.

Murphy said the ability to buy shares over the Internet, coupled with the team's 13-0 start last season, helped drive the avalanche of sales.

With all of the new owners, shareholders will be asked to RSVP an invitation to the next shareholders meeting so the team can arrange to accommodate all the additional attendees, Murphy said.

About 50 percent of the new shareholders were from Wisconsin. Illinois and California tied for second, each accounting for about 8.5 percent of sales. Minnesota and Texas were next with 5 percent each.

Murphy said he wasn't surprised by the geographic distribution of sales, especially in California. He recalled that when the Packers played in San Diego last season, there were so many noisy Green Bay fans that the Chargers had to use a silent count at home.

"I've never seen that happen before," he said.

He also noted that fans across the country often tell him the Packers are their second favorite team.

"I was in Dallas and people would say, 'I'm a huge Cowboys fan but I really like the idea of the Packers -- a small-market team, community-owned.' I think that appeals to a lot of people," he said.

Stock sales were initially limited to U.S. residents. The team eventually resolved Canadian regulatory requirements earlier this month, giving fans there nine days to buy. The team says about 2,000 shares were sold north of the border.

The team has had four other stock offerings. Sales in 1923, 1935 and 1950 helped keep the Packers afloat at a time when other small-market teams were struggling to survive. A fourth sale was held in 1997.