- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2008

It is a marvel. In 2008, there still is an NFL franchise in Green Bay, Wis.

It’s not just any franchise but one of the most successful in the league both on the field and at the cash register - all in a city of just 100,000 people.

What is even more remarkable is that the NFL franchise in Green Bay is one of the highest-profile teams nationally.

It’s like Appalachian State having the following of Notre Dame.

Green Bay has no business having an NFL franchise. There are 259 cities in America with larger populations.

Billings, Mont., is bigger. Midland, Texas, is bigger. Topeka, Kan., is bigger.

The Packers are one of the original NFL franchises, dating to 1920 when the league got its start in the Midwest in small towns like Green Bay and Decatur, Ill.

Through a variety of circumstances, the Packers have the unique security blanket of being owned, basically, by the fans - the only reason there still is a team in Green Bay.

The Packers were successful early in their history under coach and founder Curly Lambeau, so unlike franchises in places like Dayton, Ohio, and Akron, Ohio, the Packers stayed put.

The Packers were able to do so because the original articles of incorporation ensured the club was a nonprofit organization with stockholders and board members owning the team.

More than 100,000 fans hold shares in the Packers, giving them voting rights, but no dividends are ever paid, and the stock cannot appreciate in value. And no one shareholder can own more than 200,000 shares. There is no Dan Snyder, no Jerry Jones, no Al Davis.

Many communities today would love to have that setup. Such a system would have prevented the Colts from leaving Baltimore. That city tried to take over the franchise when Bob Irsay moved it to Indianapolis in 1984, going to court to seek eminent domain to stop the move - an attempt that proved unsuccessful.

Let’s face it, the sanest system for sports ownership in America is in Green Bay.

Insanity, though is what pays for pro sports owners.

Taxpayers in two cities certainly would have been better off under the Green Bay system. Three stadiums - one in Baltimore and, with the opening of Lucas Oil Field, two in Indianapolis - have been built because of the Colts’ move at a cost of $1 billion.

To build Lambeau Field and then renovate it several times, Packers shareholders simply approved stock sales, and there were no shortage of buyers.

Unfortunately, this system never will exist anyplace else in the NFL. The league later instituted a rule limiting ownership groups to 32 and requiring that one owner hold a minimum of 30 percent of the team. The Packers ownership was grandfathered in.

That’s too bad for another small-city franchise - the Green Bay model might be the only thing that could keep the Bills in Buffalo.

Buffalo is the next smallest city with an NFL team, and the fans there, unlike those in Green Bay, have little control over the future of their team no matter how much they support it.

There is no money in Buffalo - not the kind of corporate and per capita wealth that can pay for luxury boxes and seats in the modern-stadium era.

The only thing keeping the Bills in Buffalo is their 89-year-old owner, Ralph Wilson, and he has said that when he leaves Buffalo for the great beyond, the club will be sold to whomever ponies up the most money - someone from Los Angeles or, more likely, Toronto.

The Bills already have agreed to play eight home games over the next five seasons at the Rogers Centre in nearby Toronto to bring in more cash. They played an exhibition there Aug. 14 against the Pittsburgh Steelers and play a regular-season game against the Miami Dolphins on Dec. 7.

The deal was presented as a means to help the club survive in Buffalo, but it also is seen as a steppingstone to the eventual sale and move of the team.

The Green Bay Packers would have suffered the same fate a long time ago, save for a team of the people, by the people and for the people.

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