Small city, big bucks

The Packers play in the NFL's smallest city but the $295 million renovation of Lambeau Field has made them an economic force in pro football.<P>

In terms of revenue, the Packers now rank 10th in the 32-team league based on the fiscal year that ended March 31. One year ago, the team ranked 20th.

The Packers reported this month that their net income after taxes was $15.5 million, a jump of $11.7 million over the previous fiscal year.

In addition, the Packers benefited from the Houston Texans, the newest team in the NFL. Last season, the Texans sent a check for $5 million ($3.3 million after taxes) to the Packers and each of the other teams as part of the team's expansion fee.

The Packers' total operating income was $153.1 million, compared with $132 million the previous fiscal year, or an increase of $21.1 million.

Also impressive is the growth of the team's corporate reserve account, the piggy bank that is used for player signing bonuses and other football operations. Last season, the account grew to $58 million, a jump of $22.4 million from the previous year of $35.6 million.

The turnaround is the direct result of the $295 reconstruction of Lambeau Field, a project that is expected to be completed by August.

Although the Packers were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, they had much better luck off the field. A combination of agreeable weather, few construction problems and the availability of additional seats and fan amenities gave the Packers a bigger financial shot in the arm than expected.

"This has given us the financial horsepower to survive and compete," Packers treasurer John Underwood said.

Said John Jones, senior vice president and chief operating officer: "We have delivered on our promise to protect this franchise for future generations."

Last year, the team was able to put in about 1,000 new outdoor seats and increase capacity by 3,000 to 64,000. In addition, new, pricier private boxes were made available.

Meanwhile, the new Packers Pro Shop, including Internet and catalog sales, produced even more revenue. The Pro Shop had gross revenue of $11.1 million for the last fiscal year compared to $6.2 million the year before. The Packers expect to generate about $12 million this year.

The financial picture should be bright in the years ahead, although there was some grumbling among fans when ticket prices were raised for 2003.

The Packers intend to make Lambeau Field a place to visit throughout the year, not just during football season.

The team's new banquet facilities, its new atrium with restaurants and the Packer Hall of Fame all are expected to make more money.

Already the team has locked up nearly 140 events from September through December.

"Our goal is to make the economic playoffs," Jones said.

Of course, the NFL's shared TV package is the crucial element to the club's bottom line. Although gate receipts provided additional revenue, the Packers received $77.1 million as part of their share of the TV contract in the last fiscal year.

That money represents a little more than half of the Packers' operating income.

The Packers said they didn't know which teams rank ahead of them in overall revenue. Clearly, however, Dallas, Washington and Houston are ahead of them.

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