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With the lockout, there is no stock for the owners in Green Bay

March 21, 2011

As the NFL owners and players haggle over how to best divide up their $9 billion dollar enterprise, it’s the people providing those funds that stand to lose the most.

Look at one of the smallest NFL markets in the league, the Green Bay Packers. The green and gold just claimed their fourth Lombardi trophy since its inception in 1967, and the team’s 13th championship since the first championship season with Johnny (Blood) McNally in 1929.

Football is deeply entrenched in the city of Green Bay as almost every citizen has a story of meeting one of their football heroes. On Packers Sundays, the city turns into a modern-day ghost town with everyone either at the game or glued to a television set in their home or at their favorite watering hole — and Green Bay has plenty to choose from. The city lives and dies with the Packers, and an extended lockout could be devastating to the local economy.

Taking an eye away from the money for just a second, think about who else loses out during the lockout. As Bill Pennington of the New York Times points out, “spring and summer are traditionally the seasons when Packers players make dozens of appearances at schools and at fund-raising charity events, but not this year.”

“I’m sure the players aren’t happy about that, either,” said Jason Wied, the team’s vice president for administration and its general counsel. “It’s certainly not helping schools or charities, especially after a Super Bowl victory.”

An optimistic fan would argue that the current lockout ensures a longer run as world champions, but the lockout has killed almost all of the excitement gained from the team’s improbable Super Bowl run.

The organization is missing out on the post-championship fever as well. The last time the Packers sold shares of their team to the public was the season after they won their first Super Bowl title in 29 years. Capturing the excitement of a passionate fanbase would have been an opportune time to sell more shares, but many fans view the current impasse as millionaires fighting against billionaires, and the joy surrounding the team has been muted.

And what about training camp? Even if a deal is reached and no games are missed, a tradition that drives the summer economy of Green Bay will most likely be cut short or cancelled altogether. That means no players riding kids’ bikes to and from practice; no autograph sessions for fans; and no opportunity to be up close to your favorite players and coaches. Many families who make the annual pilgrimage during training camp will vacation elsewhere rather than postpone their trip because rising ticket prices for an NFL game have already locked them out of most stadiums around the league.

Nothing will entirely kill the machine known as the National Football League — not even a prolonged and extended lockout — but its absence may cause a significant number of fans to be turned off from the game. Along with the local restaurants and hotels that depend on the Packers offseason schedule to stay out of the red, the ultimate losers in this whole battle are the fans.

The owners and players will eventually reach an agreement, and they will determine how to divide up $9 billion dollars. But they will leave the fans — or owners, as is the case in Green Bay — high and dry.

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