With shares offered at $200 apiece, the team raised about $24 million — money that helped fund the renovation of Lambeau Field and added more than 12,000 seats to the famed stadium in time for the 2003 opener.
In 2011, the Packers are favorites to make it back-to-back Super Bowl championships with quarterback Aaron Rodgers at the height of his powers. With that success, Harlan's successor, Mark Murphy, hopes a rabid fan base is ready to help again. On Thursday, Murphy announced plans to expand Lambeau's capacity by an additional 6,600 seats to about 79,700, a project that potentially will be funded in part through the fifth stock sale in franchise history.
Harlan arguably saved the franchise with a series of moves that started with the hiring of Ron Wolf as general manager in 1991. Wolf hired coach Mike Holmgren, acquired Favre and built a team that won Super Bowl XXXI and almost won Super Bowl XXXII.
Harlan parlayed that on-the-field success into the stock sale and, eventually, used his friendly, honest personality — not to mention a dogged determination — to convince Brown County taxpayers to foot the bill on the renovation with a half-percent sales tax.
His vision paid off — and continues to pay off. Without his vision, who knows what the state of the small-market Packers would be today. It's safe to say the Packers wouldn't have won Super Bowl XLV had Harlan not put the franchise in position to compete on the economic playing field.
It's a fact Murphy acknowledged a couple of times during Thursday's announcement.
Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy stands next to an artist's rendering of the new south end zone. Bill Huber/Packer Report
"I think we all feel a responsibility," Murphy told Packer Report. "We all want to make sure the Packers continue to be competitive and have the ability to win championships. I would say this wouldn't have been possible without the renovation of 2003. There's no question about it. I think this will really build on the success of that renovation."
While he'll never be mentioned in the same breath as Lombardi and Lambeau, Harlan's legacy is beyond dispute. Because of him, the Packers became relevant again. Because the Packers were relevant in the short term, he could convince the fans to keep them relevant over the long term. Really, it's not all that different than the pass-the-hat days of Lombardi 90-plus years ago. The fans didn't have to shell out $200 for a meaningless piece of paper saying they were "owners," and they certainly didn't have to approve a sales tax.
But they did, and the renovated Lambeau put the Packers on solid financial footing, with revenues ranking in the second quartile of the league annually.
Now, it's Murphy's turn, his chance to join the immortal names of this immortal franchise. On the field, he's followed Harlan's model to a ‘T.' While it was Harlan who hired Ted Thompson as general manager — with Thompson picking Mike McCarthy as his coach and Rodgers as his quarterback— Murphy ignored the tendency for new leaders to hire "their own" men. Murphy would have scored some points among the public by dismissing Thompson in the wake of the Favre fiasco and 10-loss debacle of 2008 but never considered it.
Because of the groundwork laid by Harlan and Murphy, the Packers are on top of the football world — and poised to stay there for at least another few years. And now, with a stadium renovation that is expected to mean an additional $11 million in revenue per season — the equivalent of another home game — Murphy is putting the Packers in position to remain relevant long, long into the future.
"I hope so," Murphy said. "We've done a lot of work, we've done a lot of planning. We're excited to move forward with this. I think this will be very beneficial to the team and the fans, as well as the community."
In fact, the Packers' financial position is so strong that, this time, they don't have to pass the hat to the taxpayers. That's a big deal for the franchise's leaders. Green Bay and the Packers are inexorably linked. A decade ago, the Packers needed the taxpayers. This time, with governments from sea to shining sea in the red, programs being cut and unemployment at depressingly high levels, the taxpayers need the Packers. The team is coming through with a project that will employ at least 1,600 workers and provide more than $70 million in wages — at a cost of exactly $0 to a tax base that is struggling to make ends meet.
"The primary reason we're able to do this today is the renovation 10 years ago," vice president of administration/general counsel Jason Wied said. "We sat around yesterday and asked ourselves, ‘Would there be any chance in the world we'd be announcing this today if we hadn't had the renovation 10 years ago?' The answer is no, we would not be able to do that. That's what put us in the financial position to borrow, to tap into our own funds and to invest in the stadium. We're very proud and humbled that we can do that because the taxpayers of the community stepped up and gave us a hand when we needed it."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.