FOX 11 Investigates: Close calls on the Packers calling Green Bay home
GREEN BAY (WLUK) -- Green Bay might be the home of the Pack, but what many don’t realize is Titletown has actually came close to losing the team--on several occasions.
The thought can be shocking, after all the Packers have always called Green Bay home.
NFL teams, like the Pack, form strong bonds with their fans.
Would the Packers ever leave Titletown?
Listen to what Packers President Mark Murphy told fans at this summer's Packers shareholders' meeting:
"With our ownership structure for us the other top priority is making sure we stay in Green Bay,” said Murphy. He continued, “And I think investing in the community in the way we are with Titletown really helps insure that this team will stay here."
FOX11 Investigates asked Murphy about his choice of words.
“You bring up the words, ‘…to insure the team stays here in Green Bay.’ Which brings up the question, ‘Is there a chance the team could leave Green Bay?’”
“Well hopefully not,” said Murphy, “but if you look at the history and go back many years it's almost a miracle the Packers have stayed in Green Bay.”
NFL teams leaving one home for another is just part of the game. The driving force? Money.
The Packers hold the distinction for being the oldest NFL franchise without changing its name or home. But Packers historian Cliff Christl points out history shows even the mighty have fallen.
“I mean Los Angeles, Cleveland, Baltimore, Houston. They had all lost teams, they're ranked among the top 10 in the country in population,” said Christl. “If it can happen there, obviously it could happen in little Green Bay.”
Christl agreed it’s all about the money for teams.
“Ya, as an NFL partner you've got to hold up your end of the business,” said Christl.
Packers fans FOX11 Investigates caught up with enjoying the new Titletown District Park have a view that's more loyal, when asked if they had any concern the Packers would leave Green Bay.
“You know I never really had a concern about them. I grew up here all my life not far from the stadium here. I was never concerned the Packers would leave,” said Jim Swanson, a lifelong Packers fan.
“No, no. We have the best fans. Why would they want to go anywhere?” questioned Packers fan Amy LaPointe.
Since the Packers aren't controlled by a single owner, some believe a shareholder vote would be needed for any potential move out of Green Bay. Murphy says that's not the case.
“I don't think the organization would ever vote to leave Green Bay, but if it was dire enough you could see the league saying, ‘you know Green Bay you're too small, you can't compete anymore.’”
In fact, FOX 11 Investigates discovered the Packers franchise came close to disappearing from Green Bay on several occasions. Christl says it began in the early years of the team's incorporation in 1923.
“At that time when that incorporation was created there were no assurances the Packers were going to be around for the full season, much less the next year 5 years down the road,” said Christl.
Fast forward to 1956, the city was old to fund a new stadium. The high school field at City Stadium was no longer acceptable to the NFL.
“That was basically going to determine if they were going to keep the franchise. I mean the league pretty much let them know either build a stadium or you're at risk to lose your team,” added Christl.
Christl says the threat to remove football from Green Bay was real.
“I say it often, the Packers were perpetually on their deathbed,” said Christl.
New City Stadium saved the Packers that time. It would transform over the years to become Lambeau Field. But even after Super Bowl success in the mid-90s, Green Bay almost lost the Pack again in 2000.
“No matter how we try to adjust our pricing and to make this more adequate we are going to continue to slide," said then team President Bob Harlan. Harlan led the push to re-develop Lambeau Field.
David Steffen was hired to head up 'Team Lambeau' to get out a 'yes' vote in a referendum for a half percent county sales tax to fund $295-million of the cost of redevelopment.
“It was critical, critical in my estimation to the long-term success and potential survival of the organization,” said Steffen, now a state assemblyman from Howard, looking back.
Despite success on the field and selling out every game, Steffen says the Packers needed the redevelopment to be able to generate more money.
“I specifically remember a call from a southeast Wisconsin County executive, I won't mention, but he said, 'when your referendum fails, call me and we'll build a stadium for you down here,’” said Steffen.
Steffen says the Packers executive team made a point not to threaten Brown County residents with an ultimatum that if the referendum didn't pass Green Bay could lose the Packers.
Harlan, just a month before the vote, indicated to FOX11 the Packers had run out of options.
“I keep getting calls from people if this fails you must have a Plan B. We've reached that, this is not nearly the plan that was unveiled on January 22,” said Harlan in August of 2000.
Harlan was then asked, “What’s Plan C?” His answer—“Plan C is death.”
We asked Steffen if the referendum failed, would the Packers still be playing at Lambeau Field?
“In my estimation the Green Bay Packers would likely not be in Green Bay,” said Steffen.
As it turns out the redevelopment of Lambeau Field paid off. It not only kept the Packers in Green Bay, it helped to raise enough money for a south end zone expansion in 2012 and renovations to the Atrium in 2013, worth $285-million. Those projects were completely funded by the Green Bay Packers.
The team's latest venture is in the Packers' owned Titletown District, a mix of business, entertainment and public attractions. Earlier this month the Packers and Microsoft unveiled a business incubator venture called Titletown Tech.
“Certainly we hope to make money and hope it is profitable but it was also I think one of our main motivations was to invest in the community,” said Murphy.
The Packers franchise is now one of the biggest money makers in the league. Forbes ranks its worth at $2.55 billion, with annual revenue of more than $420-million.
“I think now with what's been done with the stadium and the Titletown District, you know, the foreseeable future, the Packer are going to be in Green Bay,” said Christl.
“For us making sure the team stays here is a priority,” said Murphy.