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Nonprofit Wins Super Bowl

Jonathan Mariano headshotWords by Jonathan Mariano
New Activism

The city of Green Bay celebrated their team's win at Super Bowl XLV, yesterday.  You may ask, what does a sports team have anything to do with sustainability?  No, it’s not because the Green Bay Packers hail from a city with the name “Green” in it. Nor is it because of the teams color scheme includes the color green.  And it’s not even the environmental side of sustainability.

Rather, it’s the people and “profit” side, the Packers organizational structure, that piques interest. The Green Bay Packers are a community owned (people), nonprofit organization (“profit.”)
The Packers nonprofit status may come as a surprise.  Every other franchise in the National Football League (and every other major league sport) is owned by private individuals.

In fact, since the 1980’s, it has been forbidden by the NFL for a franchise to be owned by a corporation, whether it be a for-profit or nonprofit corporation.  The Packers were grandfathered in, as the team has been a community owned nonprofit since it filed for incorporation in 1923.

What’s also unique with the Green Bay Packers is its locale, with a metro area population of about 300,000 people.  It’s the only team with a metro population less than one million people.  The Packers competitors at the Super Bowl, the Pittsburgh Steelers, have a metro area population of about  2.4 million people.

Yet even with a metro area of small population, every single Packers home game has been sold out since the 1960’s.  That’s nearly half a century of sold out games!  Some for-profit teams around the nation, like the Oakland Raiders, struggle to even get one sold out game in a season.

The Packers website attribute its success to its shareholder fans, “One of the more remarkable business stories in American history, the team is kept viable by its shareholders — its unselfish fans.”

There are 4,750,937 shares is owned by 112,158 stockholders.  The catch to owning shares is there are no dividends, meaning no monetary profit.  So why buy a share if there is no monetary profit?

Rather stockholders appear to hold shares for the sake of holding it.  These shares are rarely sold, though they do entitle shareholders to limited voting rights.  Perhaps there is more to “profit” than just monetary profit, a type of psychological profit.  The psychological profit of supporting your home team, of being the owner of an NFL franchise, or of putting your own money at stake.  What other reason is there to buy a stock that you don’t plan to sell, yet gives no dividends?

The same is true for season tickets.  The average wait time for Packers season tickets is 90 years.  Some folks get on the wait list now, so their children, or children’s children will have an opportunity for season tickets.  In comparison, half the teams in the NFL have no waiting list for season tickets at all.

Perhaps most interestingly, in the unlikely event that the Packers were to be sold, their charter states that 100% of the proceeds would be given to various Wisconsin charities.

Is a community owned nonprofit team a panacea to create a loyal, sustainable fan base?  After all, shareholder fans have something at stake as well.  Or are the Green Bay Packers just a one of a kind unique situation?  Unless the NFL changes its ownership rules, it’s unlikely that the nonprofit corporate form of an NFL team can be put to the test.

Anyhow, congratulations to the Green Bay Packers, and their community of stockholders for their win in Super Bowl XLV!

Jonathan Mariano headshotJonathan Mariano

Jonathan Mariano is an MBA candidate with the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, CA. His interests include the convergence between lean & green and pursuing free-market based sustainable solutions.

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