Packers scheduling quirks mean less to Green Bay-area businesses this year than the return of fans to Lambeau Field
ASHWAUBENON - The Green Bay Packers' 2021 schedule creates some challenges for Green Bay area businesses and — you know what? — nobody cares.
"That’s why I didn’t even look at the schedule that close. We're just happy as heck to have things getting back to normal and our beloved Packers fans back in town," said Tim Kuehn, owner of Margarita's Famous Mexican Food & Cantina.
Every schedule has its quirks and the one released Wednesday is no exception. This year, the Packers have only one noon game at Lambeau Field, something that's never happened before. Four of the games are at 3:25 or 3:30 p.m., and three are night games. One of the afternoon games is on Christmas Day against the Cleveland Browns.
"It really depends on who you talk to whether they like noon or 3:25 games," said Brad Toll, president and CEO of the Greater Green Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau. "I know some of our hotels like noon games, but this year, it's 'Games!' "
The Packers did not allow paying fans in the stadium for any of the regular-season games at Lambeau Field during the 2020 season, and only limited numbers were admitted for the two home playoff games. But those two games reminded business owners of what they were missing during a year of coronavirus shutdowns.
"Those two home playoff games we had were pretty awesome and we were still utilizing reduced seating," said Andrew Fabry, president of Badger State Brewing in Green Bay. "Even half (stadium capacity) would be incredible."
The Packers and the NFL are contemplating having full stadiums by time the season begins in September, banking on vaccination rates across the country reducing COVID-19 risk to something acceptable.
Each Packers home game provides an estimated $15 million economic impact to the local economy. Those games and other Packers operations that rely on people coming to Green Bay and Lambeau Field generate more than $200 million annually.
As to the schedule itself, the distribution of home and away games is fairly balanced. The Packers will play back-to-back road games twice and one back-to-back home stretch. They do play three home games in December, although two are against cold-weather teams, the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns.
"I think it’s spaced out well. In that way, it’s pretty good," said Jess Miller, an owner of The Bar on Holmgren Way, Hagemeister Park in Green Bay and Graystone Ale House in Ledgeview.
Several business owners are happy with the number of afternoon games.
"We’re big fans of 3:25 and I know our staff are too," Fabry said. "It’s just not as condensed a visit. People will hang out a little bit longer. They don’t tend to go too hard, too fast."
Kuehn, too, is a fan.
"You get people that come in and eat before and they come in after and grab supper. By the time they eat, traffic's cleared out," he said.
Miller, on the other hand, would like more noon games, but, as he points out, more late games mean the Packers are a good team that is getting better TV exposure.
"We would always prefer more noon games, but we’ll trade off having a good team versus noon games," he said.
Both Margarita's and The Bar made modifications to their buildings in anticipation of fans returning. Margarita's added a 13-table indoor/outdoor seating area, which it opened last week, and The Bar also is adding an indoor/outdoor area that will replace the tent it previously used.
The Packers have not played a Christmas Day game since they hosted the Chicago Bears in 2011. Staffing for Christmas Day games can be problematic for business owners and might be again this year. On the plus side, Christmas is on a Saturday, so employees can still celebrate with their families on Sunday.
"Normally we are closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day," Kuehn said. "This year, I think everybody is just so darned happy to have Packers fans, I don’t think it will be that difficult to get staff in to work."
Miller said getting staff for Christmas could be a challenge, but they were prepared for at least one holiday game.
"You knew there was going to be a Christmas Day or New Year's Day game. You figured you were going to get one of the two," he said. "This isn’t so bad, since it's later in the day, but it’s going to be a challenge to get help that day."
In addition to Packers games, businesses also are looking forward to the Ryder Cup golf tournament near Kohler Sept. 24-26. The Packers play in San Francisco that weekend.
"There’s are a lot of people that will be staying in Green Bay for the Ryder Cup," Miller said.
Still an open question is what kind of training camp the Packers will have. If vaccination rates are high enough and infection rates are low enough, a normal training camp, which draws thousands of people to Green Bay and has about a $9 million economic impact, could be possible. The Packers have not said how training camp will be handled; the team is waiting in part on an NFL decision on protocols.
"They think there will be some sort of fan involvement with training camp," Toll said. "Right now, the Brewers and Bucks are at 50%, so we are hoping things will continue to improve."
Contact Richard Ryman at (920) 431-8342 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @RichRymanPG, on Instagram at @rrymanPG or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RichardRymanPG/