Can Packers continue cashing in on Lambeau?

The Green Bay Packers rank seventh in the NFL in revenue, but will that continue if they continue to struggle? With player salaries skyrocketing, the franchise's long-term viability depends on a winning product creating revenue.

The Green Bay Packers will announce during their annual shareholders meeting next month that they have vaulted from 10th to seventh in the NFL in revenue.

That's the good news, and that's why Packers president Bob Harlan fought long and hard to turn Lambeau Field from simply the team's fabled home to the team's fabled, cash-generating palace.

Still, the real test of the Packers' financial stability should be seen after the coming season.

A year ago, there was quite a buzz around the Packers. Despite some key off-season player defections, the Packers — especially with Brett Favre as quarterback — seemed as good a bet as any team to reach the Super Bowl.

Of course, the Packers' season fizzled faster than a wet firecracker. They went 4-12, and it had become abundantly clear that the Packers' Super Bowl window of opportunity not only had closed, but had been bolted shut for at least the next few years.

So, so long Mike Sherman and hello Mike McCarthy.

Coaching changes usually bring renewed optimism, but not so with McCarthy. Perhaps it's because of McCarthy's decent but hardly overwhelming pedigree as an assistant coach. Perhaps it's because Packers fans are savvy enough to realize the 2006 team isn't going to be very good.

Whatever the reason, the Packers' popularity — while always strong, of course — is on a bit of a downward slide.

So, now's the time when Lambeau Field will be put to the test. If the Packers can remain among the front-runners in the league in revenue after the coming season — not necessarily seventh, but at least in the top half of the 32-team league — then the team's long-term financial standing should remain strong.

But if the Packers should hit a string of tough times on the field, the Packers might hit a string of tough times in the financial coffers.

Plus, with big-market teams such as Dallas and New York, along with Indianapolis and Arizona, building or opening new stadiums, the Packers figure to slide down the list, regardless of what happens on the field.

The Packers need Lambeau Field to generate gobs of money. Compared to most markets, the advertising revenue is paltry.

"A number of these guys, like (Dallas Cowboys owner) Jerry Jones, are world-class entrepreneurs," team treasurer Larry Weyers told the Green Bay Press-Gazette, which along with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel revealed the team's financial figures in Sunday's editions. "We believe their local revenues will increase dramatically (when the stadiums open). There will be pressure on us to maintain our position."

Then, there's the "newness" factor of the new Lambeau is dissipating.

Revenue generated by the Lambeau Field Atrium dipped 20 percent, to $4.2 million. While the Atrium should be a hit for years to come, the Packers probably have maxed its cash-generating possibilities.

Thus, the pressure shifts to the on-the-field product to produce wins so the franchise can produce money.

The cost of fielding a team certainly isn't decreasing — the Packers paid $102.9 million in salaries and bonuses in the last fiscal year, up $5 million from last year and nearly $7 million from two years ago. With the salary cap rising by a greater amount than in previous seasons because of the new collective bargaining agreement, and with the Packers shelling out bigger bonuses, player expenses are expected to rise sharply in the coming years.

If the Packers are to keep up with the (Jerry) Joneses, they must win. Winning means money in terms of added playoff revenue, added memorabilia sales and simply an added feel-good mentality that brings fans to the stadium to spend money 365 days a year.

Without the stadium churning out revenue the way the mint churns out money, and without a deep-pockets owner to fall back on, the Packers are in danger of a long and difficult plunge into mediocrity and irrelevance.

So, this year's numbers are great news. But, assuming another poor season, the Packers' financial status a year from now very well could foreshadow the franchise's long-term viability.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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