The total value of the NFL’s 32 franchises is estimated to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $63 billion. To put that into perspective, the total value of every MLB team is “only” about $36 billion.
It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when your average professional football player was just a blue-collar worker who played in their free time. Every NFL team can trace their roots to this simpler time when football was more of a hobby than a career choice.
For the Green Bay Packers, their NFL dynasty began with a $500 loan given in good faith.
“Call Them The Green Bay Packers!”
In 1919, the town of Green Bay, Wisconsin was populated by roughly 25,000 people. It was a working-class town that’s first population “boom” can be traced back to the fur trading days. It wasn’t exactly New York City.
Still, Green Bay did have Curly Lambeau and George Whitney Calhoun. These two young men were high school football rivals who decided that their beloved town needed a professional football team. They believed in the idea so much that Lambeau went to his bosses at the Indian packing company and asked for equipment and uniform money.
His bosses agreed to loan him $500. That’s about $6,000 in modern currency.
After the team’s first pick-up game, Lambeau decided that it was time to give Green Bay’s football team a name. In honor of the generosity of his employers, he decided to call them the Green Bay Indians.
His girlfriend didn’t care for the name. Legend has it that she shouted at Lambeau, “Well, for heaven’s sake, Curly, why don’t you just call them the Green Bay Packers!”
So he did. Even when the team’s naming rights were sold to the Acme Packing Company, they remained the Packers.
Scandals, Bears, and The Hungry Five
On the field, the Green Bay Packers’ first season was a tremendous success. The team went 10-1 and figured to be a future powerhouse.
Off the field, the Green Bay Packers got their first taste of sports scandal. The American Professional Football Association found out that the Green Bay Packers had used college football players for some of their games. As this was against the rules, they revoked the Packers’ membership.
Later on, it was revealed that the man who informed the APFA of the Packers’ violation was the Chicago Staleys’ George Halas. You may know the Staleys better by their current team name, the Chicago Bears. This incident began the Bears/Packers rivalry.
Lambeau paid the $50 fine the league demanded from him, and the team was reinstated. Unfortunately, the Packers soon faced financial difficulties far greater than $50. The team had to be sold to a group of local investors. This group eventually became known as the “Hungry Five” because they were constantly looking for money.
Nobody knew it at the time, but this seemingly normal buyout was going to shape the destiny of the Green Bay Packers.
A Team Of The People, By The People, For The People
Early on, the National Football League established a simple rule regarding team ownership. While it was perfectly fine for an individual or a small group of individuals to own an NFL team, they wouldn’t allow a corporation to own a football team.
The problem was that the Green Bay Packers were already owned by a technical corporation. Rather than fight the team over the matter, the NFL agreed to just grandfather them in and enforce the rule moving forward.
This allowance afforded the Green Bay Packers an opportunity that no other team enjoys. They could actually sell stock in the team to individuals. In fact, the owners of the Packers did just that in 1923 in order to raise quick cash. The franchise continues to sell stock to this day.
The ability to sell stock allows the Packers to acquire tremendous sums of money from the fans in a short amount of time. As for the fans, these stocks offer no real benefits. In fact, they’re actually a terrible investment.
The terms of owning stock in the Green Bay Packers are odd. Stockholders receive no dividends, the stock itself doesn’t ever appreciate in value, and those who own stocks don’t even receive season ticket benefits.
So why does anyone bother? Because Green Bay is a small city whose residents take great pride in making non-tax exempt donations to their local football team.
The Modern Green Bay Packers
Today, the Green Bay Packers are worth $1.735 billion. They’re one of the 20 most valuable sports franchises in the world. Their starting quarterback is due to make $12,550,000 in 2017.
Stocks in the team, meanwhile, remain a hot ticket item that sells for around $250 a share whenever they are offered to eager fans.
Not bad for a team that can trace its roots to a $500 loan from a high school football player’s boss.