Packers took steps to avoid relocation roulette

Ryan Wood
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PHOENIX - After 20 years of market stability, the NFL has approved the relocation of three franchises in the past 14 months.

Labor union member Geraldine Lacy celebrates Monday, March 27, 2017, in Las Vegas.

The Oakland Raiders became the latest team to change cities, receiving approval to relocate to Las Vegas starting in the 2019 season. They joined the St. Louis Rams and San Diego Chargers, both of whom moved to Los Angeles.

Before the Rams moved to Los Angeles, the last NFL team to relocate was the Houston Oilers in 1997, when they became the Tennessee Titans.

“Relocation is always difficult,” Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy said at last week’s NFL meetings. “We’ve abandoned three markets that have had NFL teams for years, and you’ve seen there’s a lot of negative publicity. I think the flip side is you’ve got markets that are really excited about having an NFL team. I think reading about Las Vegas, they kind of feel that this puts them on the map. They’re now considered a legitimate sports city.”

Murphy was part of an overwhelming vote of approval among NFL owners for the Raiders’ move. Their relocation passed by a 31-1 vote, with Miami Dolphins voter Stephen Ross the lone dissenter.

Four years ago, Ross tried to secure $289 million in public tax money for renovations to Hard Rock Stadium, which was then called Sun Life Stadium. When Florida courts refused, he spent $500 million of his own money for the renovations.

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The experience shaped Ross. In a statement last week to explain his vote, Ross said owners should exhaust every possible avenue to keep a team in its city, even pouring their own money into facilities.

Murphy said there’s an important distinction between the Raiders and Dolphins.

“The reality is,” Murphy said, “not a lot of owners have as much money as Steve Ross to say that.”

The common bond connecting all three relocations, Murphy said, was an inability to secure satisfactory stadium deals. In Oakland’s case, a “complicating factor” Murphy considered was the Raiders sharing their stadium with the Oakland Athletics.

Murphy said the relocations show the importance of staying up to date with stadium standards.

“The reality in the league,” Murphy said, “is if you don’t have a viable stadium, you don’t have a stadium that’s modern and has the amenities that you need, it’s really had to generate the revenue that you need to be competitive on and off the field.”

Murphy said the relocations are a reminder of why the Packers have invested in their stadium and other properties.

In 2003, a $295 million renovation to Lambeau Field largely was paid for by a 0.5 percent sales tax in Brown County. The Packers also invested $312 million in a five-year expansion and renovation from 2011-15, adding 7,000 seats, new gates and video boards, a new Pro Shop and restaurant and a Packers Hall of Fame.

The Packers spent an additional $53.7 million to buy more than 65 acres near Lambeau Field, including 35 acres west of the stadium that is being developed into the Titletown District.

“I think what we’ve done with Lambeau Field,” Murphy said, “is an example with a major renovation in 2003, and then the more recent ones. I think it’s really beneficial for the team. For us, I don’t want to think what would happen if the Packers ever moved out of Green Bay – that would be bad. So for us, one of the main reasons we invest in a stadium and done all that we’ve done to Lambeau Field is to make sure that the team stays there.”

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