Legacies of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady extend well off the field for Packers, Patriots

Jim Owczarski
Packers News
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New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, left, and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

GREEN BAY - The game ends, eventually.

Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers will conclude their respective careers playing much longer than anyone could have anticipated in the springs of 2000 and 2005 when they were drafted to back up Super Bowl quarterbacks. The debate over who is better — let alone their stations in the pantheon of great quarterbacks — will continue longer still.

There’s something else to be considered as part of their legacies, too, a parallelism not just with one another as quarterbacking contemporaries, but with what their franchises have built around them.

They are Titletown District and Patriot Place, acreage around Lambeau Field and Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, that have been conceived, birthed and now prosper at the same time Rodgers and Brady have led their teams to success on the field. The quarterbacks are not the root cause of those developments, but no one will deny that winning has helped them get off the ground. And the Packers and Patriots have been winning in large part because of Rodgers and Brady.

Few things happen in a vacuum.

Rodgers and Brady are the public faces of an unprecedented era of prosperity for their respective teams, which has created cash flow that has helped, and will help, sustain the franchises and the communities around them long after the clock falls to zero.

Cross-country kinship

Sunday night’s game will be played in a stadium that was entirely funded by private dollars, as the Kraft family financed not just the building but reimbursed the surrounding municipalities for the infrastructure. So from Gillette Stadium’s opening in 2002 the Krafts were thinking of a way to generate revenue outside of football — which meant using the stadium and the surrounding acreage year-round.

The result was Patriot Place, in which the Krafts invested another quarter of a billion dollars. It opened in 2007 as largely a commercial venture. The site features restaurants, a movie theater, retail shops, the Patriots Hall of Fame and other year-round entertainment options.

“We didn’t really know what we were doing,” Kraft Group and Patriots president Jonathan Kraft said with a laugh. “Literally a week after we opened it ... Lehman Brothers collapsed, and the financial markets collapsed.

“Unfortunately, when we opened the world was coming down, but knock on wood it’s all worked out.”

Despite the climate in which it opened, Patriot Place has generated not just profit for the Krafts but has employed nearly 3,000 people and has funneled $24 million to the town of Foxborough from 2007-17.

Brigham and Women’s/Mass General Health Care Center has moved in and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute will be open by 2021. There are hundreds of free-to-the-public events year-round, and more is on the table for development around Gillette Stadium, including bringing a commuter rail to the town.

“Not to do a commercial for them, but the investment has really been helpful for our community in many ways,” said Bill Keegan, the town manager for Foxborough. “Their goals are very similar to ours, and that is to make this community one of the best communities in the country. That’s what we want to do collectively.”

Just months after Patriot Place opened, the Packers hired Mark Murphy.

The organization had already purchased land around Lambeau Field and knew it had to do something, but the question was what. And during the largest economic collapse since the Great Depression, expansion was risky. Still, Murphy had to look to the future and Patriot Place represented that. Murphy visited Patriot Place four times, and the two front offices had many discussions about building around its football programs.

Being publicly owned, the Packers couldn’t fully copy the commercial model of Patriot Place. So the Titletown District incorporated park space and residential plans to go with the Bellin Health Sports Medicine and Orthopedics clinic, hotel, dining and retail outlets. Then there’s Titletown Tech, which is designed to bring innovation and new businesses to Green Bay.

“You need a revenue source besides just the Packers and Lambeau Field. I think they’ve done that wisely,” Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt said. “What they have built is going to grow.

“When you study economic development and the millennial market and where they’re going, the Packers have addressed that strategically. I think we’re all going to win with this.”

Winning matters

Several factors have helped Titletown District get off the ground, especially the influx of hundreds of millions of dollars coming into the league through media contracts and other partnerships.

Brett Favre’s impact on the organization’s vitality is not to be discounted, either. The Packers won 63 percent of the time when he started from 1992-2007, and his tenure re-established the franchise as one of the league’s premier teams. And, the 2003 renovation of Lambeau Field was instrumental in setting the team up for long-term financial stability.

“That was kind of the first step,” Murphy said. “So the stadium, instead of just being used on 10 days a year, it was used year round. Titletown was just kind of the next step from that.”

But Patriot Place and Titletown District are new, with the Kraft Group opening Patriot Place three Super Bowl titles into Brady’s career. Overall, the Patriots have won 78 percent of the time that Brady has started, moving on to the playoffs 15 times and the Super Bowl eight times.

“There’s no question that having a winning formula is complementary to what goes on up there, there’s no question about that,” Keegan said. “While they go hand-in-hand, I also think that doing quality development and making a real investment into this community and doing things that attract world-class type of investments into the area certainly help and go along with that.”

The Titletown District was unveiled in 2015, one Super Bowl and another NFC title game into Rodgers’ career. The Packers have won 65 percent of Rodgers’ starts, having reached the playoffs eight times, advanced to three NFC title games and won one championship.

“There’s no question that the success on the field is important, but from a business standpoint we’re looking at what kind of things can sustain the organization for the future,” Murphy said. “We’ve said this, we want to make sure that Green Bay can continue to support an NFL team well into the future. Now everything looks fine but things can change quickly.”

This concept isn’t new, tying an athlete to the venue they played in. The “House that Ruth built” was coined in 1923 in New York following Babe Ruth’s opening-day home run at the original Yankee Stadium. In the near-century since, it has been easier for stadium projects to be financed when teams perform well.

“I meet with other mayors of NFL franchises and talk about attendance and should we bring in the Beach Boys or what should we do? Well, why don’t you win?” Schmitt said. “That’s the No. 1 thing.”

And while Titletown District and Patriot Place are not new stadiums, but rather entities meant to serve communities outside of the 10 guaranteed football games from August through January, they will forever bear the fingerprints of the two quarterbacks who played in the venues that are the heart of those projects.

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