In turn, the Packers have done their part by giving back to the fans to show their appreciation. Last year, the team launched Fan Fest at Lambeau Field, a three-day celebration of Packers' football in the off-season. Tickets for the event became a hot item. The chance to meet players, past and present, and team personnel, tour Lambeau Field's facilities, and win Packers' merchandise again drew thousands to fill out ticket applications this year. With such a swell of applicants, the Packers had no choice but to use a lottery system to disperse 3,000 tickets.
This year's event, to be held March 10-12, is sure to be another rousing success with an appearance expected by Bart Starr among many others. To charge $75 a ticket for admission, however, is a poor decision by an otherwise superbly-run organization.
Why should such a seemingly inconspicuous topic be brought to the forefront? Quite simply, it is all a matter of principle.
Teams take advantage of fans today because they can. The demand is there. The Packers have prided themselves on being different, focusing on the fans unlike other teams. The harsh reality is, however, that they need to keep digging in their fans' pockets at rates which are increasingly disproportional to the average person. The team says they need to do this to stay competitive.
Packers' fans have a history of giving and giving throughout the years, a clear indication that the team is an important part of the community and the NFL. But how much is too much?
Most recently, the need for financial support has been elevated with the prospects of the Packers needing more revenue to compete in today's NFL. As the only publicly-owned team in the league, the Packers asked for support in 1997 and 1998 to help redevelop Lambeau Field with a stock sale. The fans answered, raising $24 million (at $200 a share) in exchange for a stock certificate with effectively no monetary value. Shortly after, a hefty seat license was required to be paid for season-ticket holders, even the long-time ones who have had tickets their entire life. For residents and visitors in Brown County, a 0.5% stadium sales tax narrowly was voted through in 2000 to help fund the new Lambeau Field. Finally, of course, there is the seemingly annual increase in game ticket prices, necessitated by the increase in other team's prices around the league.
There is no doubt Packers' president and CEO Bob Harlan always has some tough financial decisions to make, and they often involve the fans. When the loyalty is added up in dollars, those fans, wherever they live, have given more than their fair share of late. So an event like Fan Fest should reward the fans and their generosity with a minimal admission charge, if any at all. That would be a more appropriate gesture to give back to the fans for an event that is billed specifically for them.
Some 20 years ago, the Packers held what they called "fan appreciation/photo day," usually on the practice field in summer. Fans were able to cozy up to players, get autographs, and take pictures in an informal setting. It was Fan Fest without the price of admission, the organization, the structure, or the security. It was not perfect, but for those who attended, the memories will last forever. That was the important thing.
There was something to be said for the time a little kid worked his way through a mass of fans to get a photo and an autograph of Don Majkowski. Heck, even Sterling Sharpe was cordial and a comedian of sorts at those events, a side that many people never saw of him. It was a fun for most everyone in a non-corporate environment, and it was free.
Understandably times have changed, but the Packers do not need to deviate from such a unique experience by placing a financial burden on even one fan or one family that will attend Fan Fest. They balked at charging an admission price to watch training camp practices just a couple of years ago keeping Packers' training camp one of best and most highly-valued experiences in all of the NFL. The same should apply for Fan Fest.
The money the Packers generate from food and Pro Shop sales as well as charging normal admission to the Packer Hall of Fame (which is free now with the $75 ticket) should be enough to make a charitable donation from the event and cover expenses. In that case, at least those in attendance will have options of where to spend their money.
It will cost a family of four $300 in admission (granted kids are over three years of age) to attend Fan Fest this year, more than the cost for that same family to attend a regular season game at Lambeau Field. On top of that, then, there other expenses which could include travel and lodging for those visiting. Conversely, the Packers will generate $225,000 from gate receipts.
The $300 for a typical family of four is a substantial amount. The $225,000 for the Packers is a drop in the "collection hat," regardless of where it is dispersed. The latter amount cannot be that crucial to the team and its endeavors considering its most recent ex-coach is still due the better part of a $6 million contract he was given at a time when his future seemed uncertain.
The Packers can make things right by re-evaluating what Fan Fest means next year. They have become a financial force in the NFL because of several good decisions they have made throughout the team's history. Charging $75 per ticket for a "fan" event is not one of them.
Editor's note: Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.