Green Bay Packers stock went on sale Tuesday, and fans gobbled up $400,000 worth in the first 11 minutes, the team said. Just one catch: It's worthless. Stock in the undefeated NFL team has no resale value and reaps no dividends. It's also not ownership in any official sense.
Confused? It probably won't matter to Cheeseheads, as rabid Packer fans are known. Despite a $250-a-share price (plus handling fee), the novelty and the status will be tough to resist. "It will probably sell out so fast, it'll make your head spin," said Tom Berkedal, a branch manager of the Stifel Nicolaus investment firm office in Appleton, Wisc.
The Packers are selling 250,000 shares to help finance $130 million in renovations to Lambeau Field. The team's stadium is to the National Football League what Wrigley Field and Fenway Park are to Major League Baseball. In the Packers' last sale, in 1997, the NFL's only publicly held (but not traded) team sold 120,000 shares at $200 a pop. That brought its shareholder total to 112,205 and total shares to 4.75 million.
Not one penny confers traditional for-profit ownership. Regular owner shares that could be bought and sold on a stock exchange are, in referee talk, illegal procedure. "Ownership of an NFL club or football-related assets by a corporation or other entity in which ownership interests are publicly traded is prohibited," the NFL by-law states. To clarify, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said, "There is no public ownership permitted."
So what is the $250 buying besides a certificate and a seat at the annual meeting? Perhaps because the Packers won the last Super Bowl behind their coverboy quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, and haven't lost since has made the question irrelevant for the faithful willing to pay a hefty price for a sense of attachment. Besides, it could be a fun Christmas gift.
No investor can profit, yet no one can claim a deduction. And there are no cuts in front of the 81,000 in line to be season ticket holders either. The Packers are technically a nonprofit, public corporation. A small-market team since it was born in 1923 (Green Bay's current population is 104,057), the team has had special league permission to conduct these sales four times before to raise capital. The last time came after its previous Super Bowl title. The venture took some convincing because owners feared that the Packers would use the endowment for pay raises. But the revenue is designated for capital improvements only.
For fans dreaming of a real initial public offering, in which shares rise and fall with the team's fortunes, sack that thought. It can't happen. It's impractical and violates league policy, league spokesman Greg Aiello said. "The Packers' ownership structure is a vestige of an earlier time ... that would not be possible to retrofit now. It's a grandfathered structure adopted more than half a century ago to save the Packers."
As the value of NFL franchises mushroomed, league policy focused on deep-pocketed and identifiable owners. Up to 25 people can own a team, but one must have at least 30 percent of the pie and be fully accountable for the franchise.
Big-name teams have played on the stock market over the years. Shares of the Boston Celtics were sold on the New York Stock Exchange from 1986 to 2003, with fans owning 40 percent of the club. Shares went for $18.50 when the team first went public and paid off at $27 by the time the team became fully private.
These days, the New York Knicks come with any purchase of MSG Inc. (MSG) stock, which also owes the Madison Square Garden and a sports network. The Italian soccer team A.S. Roma (ASR), is available on the Borsa Italiana. Manchester United, the New York Yankees of soccer, has its global fan base salivating at the prospect of an IPO on Singapore's stock exchange.
But to many Packers fans, the worthless is priceless. Even one seasoned investor understands.
Jeff Sica, a Packer follower and the president of Sica Wealth Management, said, "They're the true historic team that people most associate with the game. The shares were always meant to be just what they are: to tie psychological value into a part of a legendary team."
(Story updated Dec. 6 at 1:45 p.m. to include initial stock-sale reports and clarify difference between honorary shares and traditional for-profit shares.)