Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., is home to one of America's last communist experiments; and it's a near century-long success story. Founded in 1919, the Green Bay Packers remain the only major league franchise in American professional sports without traditional private owners. There are certainly no billionaires in their board room. The Packers have won a dozen NFL championships in Titletown, more than any other franchise, and they have done it all with what is essentially communal ownership by the committed Cheeseheads of Green Bay. There are, technically, private stockholders in the form of more than 100,000 people in possession of nearly five million shares in the team. But these owners have stock certificates that can officially never pay a dividend, and so they amount to little more than novelty memorabilia sold to support the club. For all intents and purposes, they might be viewed as oversized, if expensive (last sold in 1998 at $200 per share), trading cards.
In order to ensure the Packers always remain part of the Green Bay community, the team's 1923 "Articles of Incorporation for the Green Bay Football Corporation" include a clause mandating all profits from any sale of the team be given to the Sullivan Wallen Post of the American Legion, and be used to build "a proper soldier's memorial." In 1997, shareholders voted to change the beneficiary from the American Legion to the Green Bay Packers Foundation, a non-profit organization which makes donations to a wide variety of charities and institutions throughout the state.
The football team is one giant Wisconsin commune, sharing more than a climate with the "socialist paradise" of Sweden. If the NFL expands to Scandinavia, not only will our European neighbors lay claim to the nickname "Vikings," but they might want to run their franchise like the Packers. Green Bay has more than 100,000 different "owners" who elect a board of representatives to run the team (you didn't think they host an overflow meeting each summer in Bay Beach Amusement Park on the shores of Green Bay to kick around personnel moves, did you?).
By rule, shares of Green Bay Packers so-called "stock" cannot be resold for a profit. By rule, no individual can purchase more than 200,000 shares, to prevent individuals from mounting anything resembling a hostile takeover by grabbing too much power or control. Owners don't even get ticket privileges with stock ownership. An NFL franchise failing to wow ownership's corporate clients with expensive fringe benefits? What happened to the aristocracy of the superwealthy club of NFL owners?
That's not capitalism. That's not private enterprise. That's egalitarian. That's the path to NFL communism! It could even be enough to turn storied baseball aficionado Fidel Castro into an NFL man; or at least a Packer Backer. There should be angry Tea Party activists lined up outside Lambeau Field wearing Chicago Bears jerseys before and after every home game, protesting the franchise and its tradition of spitting on our traditional free market. Upon careful examination of the Green & Gold, the informed fan knows a reddish hue can also be observed on their beloved team.
Of course, loyalty is a fragile thing, and bandwagons aren't manufactured anywhere with a guarantee for permanence. Should the Packers regain their losing ways of the 1970s and 80s and somebody makes an offer, things could get dicey. Four years ago Forbes placed the value of the Packers franchise at $911 million. If a group of football-starved Los Angeles investors decide to pay a bit of a premium and submit a one billion dollar bid for the club, the shareholding Packer faithful may contemplate. They might think about the impact that money could have for, say, the 20,000 students enrolled in Green Bay public schools. The math works out to $50,000 per child, and the comrades of Green Bay, Wis., could send all of their children to college, free of charge. That kind of broader socialist movement in education, a populist push for the common good, sounds almost as Bolshevik as the Green Bay Packers' ownership structure.
But, those Wisconsin Cheeseheads are the proud sort, and they do love their football every bit as much as they worship beer, sausage and, presumably, Type 2 Diabetes. Should push come to shove, would Green Bay Packers fans actually be willing to watch their 100-year socialist utopia fade away in exchange for the concentrated riches of free enterprise as we have come to know it? It may be too late to seek advice from Packers legends Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi, but should Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt try to arrange a meeting to consult with a frail Kim Jong-Il before the North Korean leader is also lost?