Packers honor past, look ahead at shareholders meeting

Richard Ryman
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Green Bay Packers shareholders attend the 2015 annual meeting at Lambeau Field.

The Green Bay Packers are reaching back seven decades for a uniform and paying forward for the community’s future.

Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy unveiled the team’s much-awaited new throwback uniform, from the 1937-49 era, and announced Packers Foundation impact grants for $250,000 each to the American Foundation for Counseling Services in Green Bay and Medical College of Wisconsin, which has a new campus in De Pere. Also, the new Packers Hall of Fame will open Aug. 21.

The news was delivered to just less than 12,000 people Tuesday during the Packers’ annual shareholders’ meeting, held in the Lambeau Field bowl under providentially overcast skies with temperatures in the low 80s.

In a post-meeting news conference, Murphy stressed the importance of the medical school grant, which will be used for scholarships. The other grant will be used to train mental health counselors. Both are matching grants, which means they’ll each have a $500,000 impact.

“If doctors go to school here, they are likely to stay here,” he said. “It could have a big impact on this community.”

Murphy had a lot to talk about Tuesday. He recounted accomplishments during the past year, ranging from the Packers’ success on the field to its Lambeau Field renovations and its charitable efforts. He talked about issues the NFL faced during the year with player conduct, and chances of the Packers playing in London in the near future. He teased the team’s development plans west of the stadium, but offered nothing substantial.

Murphy got loud applause when he said the Packers would never sell naming rights to Lambeau Field. It’s been said before, and Murphy revealed after the meeting he shunned one approach by a large corporation, but Packers owners and fans never tire of hearing it.

In the post-meeting news conference, in connection with a discussion on variable pricing, Murphy said the Brown County lottery would continue for the foreseeable future, with a caveat. The team makes 4,000 tickets per home game available to Brown County residents for their support of the 0.5 percent sales tax approved by voters for the 2003 renovation of Lambeau Field. The team will continue the lottery if it is used.

“We want to be sure demand is high. In recent years, we’ve had trouble selling out,” he said.

The lottery is for Brown County residents, and the team would be concerned if the tickets were resold to fans of visiting teams, he said. It is something the team tries to avoid on the sale of standing room only tickets as well.

“We have 115,000 people on our waiting list. That’s also a concern,” he said. “It would be nice if we could provide more people with season tickets at some point.”

Some other highlights included:

• Treasurer Mark McMullen recounted financial results, released by the team last week, that showed the Packers with record revenue of $375.7 million last year. “Last year was solid. This next year could be super,” McMullen said, though he might not have been talking about finances.

• Mike Simmer, chairman of the investment committee, said the team’s corporate reserve totaled $277 million, nearly $100 million more than five years ago.

• The new Packers Pro Shop, which opened in July 2014, accounted for half of the team’s $13 million increase in local income and was named Club Retailer of the Year by NFL Consumer Products. Sixty percent of Pro Shop sales are in person and 40 percent online.

• The Packers Foundation made $1.1 million in grants to 229 organizations, a $350,000 increase over the previous year, including $250,000 to Achieve Brown County and $250,000 to five hunger-relief groups, including $50,000 to Gannett Wisconsin Media’s Stock the Shelves program.

• The team made 8,500 in-kind donations, $900,000 in cash donations and 4,700 equipment donations to charitable organizations. Also, Packers players and executives made 1,000 personal appearances at events.

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson signs an autograph for a fan during the annual shareholders meeting in 2015 at Lambeau Field.

Murphy admitted that the announcements of the uniform and the donations were unique to this meeting, adding to the usual rendition of things that are mostly known in advance.

Tom Rozum, Jim Oudenhoven and the Probst family have been to Packers shareholders’ meetings before. Lots of times.

So, knowing what they know about the usual scarcity of anything unexpected, you’ve got to ask, why?

“It’s the chance to tailgate one more time, to be together and take the day off,” and Patti Probst of Appleton, sitting at a portable table behind her car in Lambeau Field’s east parking lot with husband Mark and son Ryan.

They are not bothered by the fact that general manager Ted Thompson offers nothing in the way of actual insights about the team. Patti Probst offered her own deadpan impression of Thompson: “I’m going to tell you about our team this year. We’re good. We drafted some players.”

For Jim and Rita Oudenhoven of De Pere it’s the opportunity to “sit here and have a beer and talk to people. We met these people next to us from Tennessee and another couple from Canada.”

The one thing everyone has in common is a certificate that says they are shareholders in the only publicly owned team in American professional sports.

Tom Rozum of Batavia, Ill., who owns a replica of every jersey Brett Favre has ever worn, echoed the sentiment of several when he described the annual meeting as the kickoff to the season. Training camp starts Thursday, and not long after, teams start kicking and throwing footballs for real.

The Packers often offer shareholders opportunities other fans don’t have, or at least first crack. One year it was a locker room tour and a couple of years ago shareholders got the first look at the new south end zone.

Last year, shareholders got to see the new Packers Pro Shop and this year it was the new restaurant, 1919 Kitchen & Tap. Plus the throwback jerseys went on sale Tuesday.

But many shareholders don’t need an excuse.

“It’s just to be in Lambeau as many times as you can,” said Wandnetta Karl of Stratford.

— Contact and follow him on Twitter @RichRymanPG or on Facebook at Richard Ryman-Press-Gazette. Or call him at (920) 431-8342.

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