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Want to be NFL owner? Packers near 5th stock sale

The Green Bay Packers will be building a north entry gate at Lambeau Field as part of the team’s expansion plans, in Green Bay. The Packers are proceeding toward a new stock sale to raise money for stadium renovations. The NFL's only publicly-owned team likely would sell shares for about $200, which would get buyers voting rights, access to annual meetings at historic Lambeau Field, and such perks as tours of the playing field and locker rooms. Best of all, they legitimately could call themselves NFL owners. (AP Photo/Green Bay Packers)

By Dinesh Ramde
Associated Press

Milwaukee — Cheeseheads around the world might soon have a chance to own a piece of the Super Bowl champs.
The Green Bay Packers, the NFL’s only publicly owned team, are moving toward a new stock sale by the end of the year to raise money that would help pay for $130 million in renovations at historic Lambeau Field.

Each share likely would cost about $200 and include voting rights, although the value wouldn’t appreciate and there would be no dividends. Stockholders would be able to attend annual meetings at Lambeau, and they’d enjoy such perks as tours of the playing field and locker rooms.

Best of all, they legitimately could call themselves NFL owners.

That last reason seals the deal for Staughton Wade, 29, a lifelong Indianapolis Colts fan.

“I’d absolutely buy a share,” said Wade, of Fort Wayne, Ind. “It’s a unique thing having the opportunity to buy a share of any NFL team, and the Packers are the only team you can do that with.”

The NFL planned to brief the other teams about the proposal at a league meeting Tuesday.

An owners’ vote won’t be necessary because the proposal meets the same conditions established in 1997, the last time Green Bay sold stock, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. He said the league allowed the Packers to sell stock as long as the money only was used for capital costs such as stadium improvements.

The Packers plan to add thousands of seats and other stadium amenities in time for the 2013 season. While other teams often ask taxpayers to help pay for building upgrades, the Packers will foot the entire bill themselves through the stock sale and private financing.

That’s one reason Michael Constantine, a 26-year-old Wisconsin native who now lives in Seattle, intends to buy a share or two.

“I feel like the American public has spent enough over the last 20, 30 years to build and renovate stadiums,” said Constantine, a staunch Packers fan. “I prefer the sale of stock to raising any sales tax.”

The stock sale would be the fifth in Packers’ history. There are 112,205 shareholders who own a total of 4.75 million shares.

Just as businesses have to enter a quiet period before going public, the Packers say they can’t reveal much until regulatory issues are resolved.

“We intend to keep our fans informed of further developments to the greatest extent possible,” said Jason Wied, the team’s vice president of administration/general counsel.

If the team gets final approval, the stock sale could begin within weeks. Christmas shoppers take note, though: Shares of stock can’t be resold, and transfer of shares generally is limited to immediate relatives and heirs.

Nathan Bitzer, 36, already is a shareholder, but he plans to buy a share or two for his daughters, ages 3 and 4. The St. Paul, Minn., resident said being a part-owner was a fun privilege even if the share had no resale value.

“I put ‘NFL owner’ in my Facebook profile,” he said. “It’s a pretty unique thing, even though I acknowledge it’s pretty useless. I mean, it’s not like I’m chumming with (Dallas Cowboys owner) Jerry Jones or (Minnesota Vikings owner) Zygi Wilf.”

The Packers have been a publicly-owned nonprofit corporation since 1923. The team held its first stock sale that year, followed by sales in 1935 and 1950 that helped keep the franchise afloat while other small-markets teams were going under.

The team’s only other stock offering was in 1997. The team president at the time, Bob Harlan, was looking for ways to cover stadium renovation costs. He recalled that other owners balked, worried that the Packers would use the money to compensate their coaches or improve their roster in a way other teams couldn’t.

It was only after Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney joined Commissioner Paul Tagliabue in supporting the idea that the proposal passed. Rooney argued that the Packers deserved unanimous support because they were a vital part of NFL history. The subsequent vote was unanimous.

About 400,000 shares went on sale for $200 apiece. About 120,000 shares were sold, raising $24 million.

“We tried to come up with a figure that would be affordable to everyone,” Harlan said. “We never got one complaint about them being too expensive.”

While the Packers organization couldn’t say much about a new stock sale, Aiello, the NFL spokesman, said the team planned to sell the shares left over from 1997. The new price hasn’t been released but it’s expected to be in the same $200 range.

Joel Tchao of Fremont, Calif., plans to buy in. Even though the software engineer is a San Francisco 49ers fan, he said the small-market Packers were a feel-good story in contrast to deep-pocketed Goliaths.

“It’s nice to see the lone publicly owned team beat all the other teams that have rich owners, and win the Super Bowl,” said Tchao, 37.

Wade, the Colts fan, acknowledged that he also had a slightly devious reason for wanting to be a Packers part-owner — to needle his Indiana co-workers who are Green Bay fans.

“For them to know a big Colts fan has the ability to influence the direction of their team,” he said, “that would drive them nuts.”

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