Mike Vandermause column: Packers aim high with stadium expansion

Jul. 18, 2013
Packers ticket holders in new seating check out th...
Packers ticket holders in new seating check out th...: Packers ticket holders in expanded south end zone seating section get a chance to 'meet their seats.'
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Fans check out their seats in the south end zone section during Thursday's grand opening event at Lambeau Field. / Lukas Keapproth/Press-Gazette Media

Lambeau Field seating capacity

1957: 32,500
1961: 38,669
1963: 42,327
1965: 50,852
1970: 56,263
1985: 56,926
1990: 59,543
1995: 60,890
2003: 73,128
2013: 80,750


When it comes to playing ball with the big boys, the Green Bay Packers can compete with the best of them.

Theyíve proven that on the field by winning more NFL championships than any other team. And theyíve done themselves proud off the field with the development of the money-making machine known as Lambeau Field.

Although Green Bay is the smallest city in professional sports by far, its stadium now has the third-largest seating capacity in the NFL.

With the completion of yet another Lambeau expansion, the Packers will play home games in front of capacity crowds of 80,750. Thatís a staggering number for a city with a population of just more than 104,000, and a far cry from the 32,500 capacity when Lambeau opened in 1957.

FedEx Field in Landover, Md. (85,000), home of the Redskins, has the largest seating capacity in the NFL. MetLife Stadium (82,566) in East Rutherford, N.J., home of the New York Giants and Jets, ranks No. 2.

The Packers reported record revenue and profits this week, and their decision to add 7,000 seats to Lambeau beginning this season was shrewd and economically sound.

The team is coming off a remarkable two-decade run of success, and the Packersí season ticket waiting list hovers just above 100,000. So why not maximize revenue streams while inviting several thousand additional ticket buyers to share in the fun at Lambeau? Everybody comes up a winner.

The extra cash the Packers will rake in is the equivalent of adding another home game to the schedule. The stadium should be louder with the additional fans and the reconfiguration of the south end zone, which will make life more difficult for visiting teams. And the new seats, with amenities like chair backs and a separate stadium entrance, will add value to the game-day experience.

Lambeau Field holds the distinction of being the longest active homefield site of any NFL team. In pro sports, only Fenway Park (1912) and Wrigley Field (1914) have longer tenures.

Lambeauís seating capacity is 2Ĺ times greater than when it opened 56 years ago. Rather than build a new stadium, as most teams do, the Packers wisely chose to upgrade and modernize Lambeau while maintaining some of the original charm.

Nothing is perfect, and Lambeau is no exception. The aluminum bench seats in the bowl are a literal pain in the back side to many patrons. But the new end zone section, club seats and suites provide other options, if fans are willing to shell out more money in the secondary market.

There have been whispers that the new seats are too high and donít possess the intimacy associated with the stadium bowl. When the winter winds start whipping around, things could get pretty frosty in those sections.

But those are relatively minor complaints.

The downside to increasing the stadium capacity might not be evident until the Packers endure hard times on the field.

Itís easy to attract 80,000 fans when times are good. But if an extended stretch of bad football hits town, as it did in the 1970s and 1980s, packing a stadium that large might prove challenging.

There should never be a problem selling out with the Packersí long season ticket waiting list. But demand for tickets might plummet, and the ugly specter of tens of thousands of empty seats could arise.

Itís hard to imagine the Packers suffering through a prolonged slump, but who would have guessed in the 1960s that the Glory Years would be followed by a 25-year drought?

No one would have predicted the Buffalo Bills, who earned four consecutive Super Bowl berths in the early 1990s and regularly filled their 80,000-seat stadium, would fall on hard times. The Bills reduced their stadium capacity to 73,000, and they now play one home game a year in Toronto.

This is not to suggest a similar fate awaits the Packers. But itís a pointed reminder that prosperity isnít guaranteed.

The Packers should be competitive, if not a Super Bowl contender, as long as quarterback Aaron Rodgers plays at a high level. A Packers game at Lambeau will continue to be the marquee sporting event in Wisconsin, as well as a destination for football fans around the country.

The Packers were wise to take advantage of their immense popularity and success by expanding Lambeau, and should savor their prosperity for as long as it lasts.

mvandermause@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.

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