The N.F.L. lockout and the threat of a canceled 2011 football season have disquieted fans in many American cities, but the unease in Green Bay (population 102,000) is profound and multilayered. In the league’s smallest market, the Green Bay Packers not only give the region a cherished identity and an annual economic boost of more than $280 million, they are also the N.F.L.’s only community-owned franchise, with more than 112,000 shareholders.
Mike Roemer for The New York Times
Absent the classic notion of an owner, the folks in Green Bay cannot get particularly angry at either side, especially since every neighborhood, workplace or family could have both season-ticket holders and shareholders.
And the players? They just delivered the city a championship. In Green Bay, a prolonged Super Bowl party was just getting started.
Finally, the N.F.L. lockout adds one more labor debate to a state consumed by a bitter brawl over public-employee unions, pension and health insurance benefits and widening budget gaps — a battle temporarily suspended March 11 when Gov. Scott Walker signed into law a bill limiting bargaining rights for most government workers. (On Friday, a Wisconsin judge issued a temporary restraining order that will prevent the law from taking effect, for now.)
“What a bad month,” Ned Dorff, a Green Bay alderman on the City Council, said Wednesday. “As one of my friends told me, ‘I’ll never forgive the N.F.L. and Scott Walker for killing my Super Bowl buzz.’ ”
In this environment, scores of Packers fans did what they customarily do in good times and bad: They made a pilgrimage to Lambeau Field, home of their beloved Packers for the last 54 years. By the dozens they came to take stadium tours. Some, including a busload of conventioneers from Iowa, came to pose for pictures in front of the nearly 20-foot-high statue of Vince Lombardi, which faces the main thoroughfare, Lombardi Avenue. And Wayne Guetschow, a meat cutter from Shawano — the Packers name comes from a meatpacking plant that sponsored the team in 1919 — came to pay for his four 2011 season tickets.
Guetschow is one of the 99.7 percent who will renew their season tickets by the March 31 deadline, according to the team. The renewal rate has not changed in decades, not with a waiting list of 83,000.
“One of the first things that came up in my divorce was my season tickets,” said Guetschow, who lives about an hour from Green Bay. “I made sure I held on to them.”
Guetschow says he wears a Packers hat every day to work, where the N.F.L. lockout comes up in conversation several times during each shift.
“It makes everybody really sad; I hear a lot of grumbling,” he said, wearing a hat and a sweatshirt celebrating the recent Super Bowl championship. “I don’t know what we will do with ourselves if there is no season or even no training camp. There will be more hunting, I guess. But people around here, it’s not like we’re all going to start golfing.
“We’re a small, quiet place, but if there’s one thing that unites us, it’s the Packers. They make us feel bigger.”
Three floors up from where Guetschow paid for his tickets, inside the Packers administrative offices, Mark Murphy, the team’s president and chief executive, said many planned events had been postponed because of the lockout.
The Packers, for example, have yet to accept an invitation to the White House, since team leaders did not think President Obama would want to welcome only Packers executives and coaches. They have not ordered their Super Bowl rings because they want to consult with the players, whom they are prohibited from contacting during the lockout. Spring and summer are traditionally the seasons when Packers players make dozens of appearances at schools and at fund-raising charity events, but not this year.
“I’m sure the players aren’t happy about that, either,” said Jason Wied, the team’s vice president for administration and its general counsel. “It’s certainly not helping schools or charities, especially after a Super Bowl victory.”
Murphy, who had participated in the recent talks between league representatives and the players union, said the Packers were trying to keep their fans informed and connected during the lockout.
“They realize that nobody from the Packers is going to personally benefit,” he said. “Our purpose all along is to do what’s right for the long-term health of the franchise. That’s our mission: serving millions of Packers fans and more than 112,000 shareholders.”
Since 1923, when the Packers sold 1,000 shares of stock for $5 each, the team has been community-owned. The last stock sale was in 1997-98, when more than 120,000 shares were sold at $200 each during a 17-week period.
Shareholders live in the 50 states and several countries. A 44-member board of directors, which includes former players, local business leaders and fans, oversees the Packers. A share of stock comes with voting rights but cannot be resold except back to the team for a fraction of its original price. No dividends are paid and the share cannot appreciate in value. It does not come with season-ticket privileges and no one can own more than 200,000 shares, to ensure that no individual can assume control of the team.
Still, the annual shareholders meeting is so big it must be held at Lambeau Field, which seats about 73,000.