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The Packers Will Never Move Because of “Worthless Pieces of Paper”

Our worthless stock certificates don’t seem so worthless in light of the recent slew of NFL teams moving away from their established fanbases.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Oakland Raiders Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It’s worth noting, as the Oakland Raiders will be leaving Oakland, that the Green Bay Packers will never be going anywhere (outside of some Armageddon scenario), and the reason for this is the public ownership of the team. The Packers have now had five stock sales in their history, the last two of which sold a sub-class of stock that is admittedly more ornamental than functional. However, it is also worth noting that part of the “original” investors, the ones you may think of as having real power and real money in the organization, face similar restrictions to their ownership interests. The ownership of the Packers is decentralized, and the restrictions on profiting from the stock mean that centralization of power is nearly impossible to realize.

The Packers are perhaps the model of fan-centric ownership. While they are not above seeking public money for renovations, they also have the unique ability to raise money through stock releases, in a completely voluntary manner. This is especially noteworthy now that we know with 100% certainty that the NFL is in this game solely for public subsidies and monetary franchise appreciation, and doesn’t care at all about committed fanbases. Just look at what they’re doing in Oakland.

Oakland has a large, rabid fanbase. The passion of Raider fans, while coming off slightly more violent, is not unlike that of Packer fans, and the die-hards are famous for drinking too much and dressing up in scary silver and black attire. The Raiders also have a proud history, with 3 post-merger Super Bowl wins in 4 appearances. The Raiders were also, for most of their existence, owned by a crazy man who moved the team to Los Angeles from 1982-1994. The team is now owned by the crazy old man’s son, Mark Davis.

Absent the subsidies, the move to Vegas looks terrible on paper. Las Vegas is a tourist city and the NFL’s tourist cities tend to not produce solid reliable fanbases. Moreover, while Packer fans will likely flock to Vegas to see their team play, the Jaguars are likely to see a mostly empty stadium when they visit. Las Vegas is a miniscule market when compared to the Bay Area. Nothing about this move makes sense, except…

The NFL will see as much as a $375 million relocation fee from Las Vegas, and the city is contributing an additional $750 million for a new stadium, upkeep, and maintenance. Year to year revenue based on things like ticket sales is nice for Raider ownership, but the big money in sports ownership is in franchise appreciation, and soaking local communities. The Raiders will have a nice new building and won’t have to spend much on maintenance. That’s worth its weight in franchise-value gold. In this instance, the prospect of over a billion dollars in free money and reduced operating costs was far too much to turn down, even though almost everything about relocating to Vegas is a terrible idea.

The worst part is that to some extent, everyone here is acting rationally. While all studies on the subject find that taxpayer funds for private stadia are terrible investments, the reality is that municipalities are in competition with each other to attract pro sports teams. The reality for the NFL is that there is free money to be had and, because a bunch of billionaires run the show, they are happy to take it. The NFL probably could go too far with this, but in an unprecedented few years of team movement between the Chargers, Rams, and Raiders, they have not yet hit that point. If you want to throw a billion dollars the NFL’s way, they will happily steal the Jaguars from Jacksonville and drop them off on your front porch.

Under normal ownership, the Packers would likely be facing similar pressure. Instead, their ownership structure serves as a constant fly in the ointment to the rest of NFL’s billionaire’s club. The Packers have to make public disclosures that the other owners hate, they are not run by a lone member of the billionaire’s club, and they can’t be moved.

Whenever the Packers release more stock you see criticism like this and this. But that stock is not now and has never been worthless. It comes with a nice keepsake you can hang on your wall, an invitation to the yearly shareholders meeting, and a very small voting interest. You cannot re-sell it for a profit, but not every corporation needs to be solely about profit, and part of the weird, wonderful corporate structure of the Green Bay Packers is about keeping them as the Green Bay Packers. I will gladly forgo my ability to sell my one share for this purpose, as will nearly every other shareholder. Stock is an asset that we don’t “use” in the conventional sense. The Packers, on the other hand, are an asset we use frequently. The comparison to an investment security has always been stupid. There are other concerns at work and equity in the team has never been “normal” at any point in time. Personally, my one share is looking pretty valuable.

Fans of the Oakland Raiders are probably wishing they had the opportunity to buy their own “worthless piece of paper” right about now.