With 13 league championships since 1929, the Green Bay Packers are the winningest team in the United States’ National Football League (NFL). And they’re also a co-op!
The Packers were founded in 1919 but faced many financial challenges in the early years. Confronted with the possibility of losing their team, citizens and entrepreneurs rallied together and raised funds to keep the team in their Wisconsin town. In 1923, the Packers were established as a non-profit cooperative enterprise and have remained one of the league’s most popular franchises since that time.
To achieve this goal, the team’s original Articles of Incorporation stipulate that no shareholder can own over 200 shares. This was their way of safeguarding against any one individual taking absolute control of the team.
An “outlaw” business model
This business model is in direct violation of NFL rules, which limit ownership to 32 owners per team, of which one must have a 30% stake.
These rules were, however, set up well after the Packers were founded, so the team’s structure was grandfathered in when the league’s current ownership policy was established in the 1980s.
Today, the Packers belong to some 360,000 members who collectively own 744,000 shares of the team.
These shares can only be transferred between immediate family members, they can’t appreciate in value, and ownership brings no season ticket privileges—and the waiting list for Packers season tickets is 30 years long!
And just like any cooperative, the Board of Directors is elected by the members.
A hybrid business model
If the Packers bylaws make the team a true cooperative, the laws of the state of Wisconsin have forced the team to adopt a hybrid business model.
Wisconsin prohibits non-profit corporations from issuing stock.
The Packers have held five stock sales to raise money to support the team. In this sense, the team technically operates like a cooperative enterprise. But since no one person or entity can own more than 200 shares, a takeover of the club would be impossible.
The fifth sale, which started in December 2011 and ended in February 2012, raised approximately US$70 million of the more than US$140 million needed to finance renovations to legendary Lambeau Field. 280,000 shares were available for purchase at US$250 each, and they all sold out… in 5 weeks!
Find out more about how the Green Bay Packers operate.
Three cooperative football teams in Canada
The Canadian Football League (CFL) also has three professional teams that run on a type of cooperative business model.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and the Edmonton Eskimos are all community owned teams.
Photo: Courtesy of the Green Bay Packers www.packers.com