Packers President Mark Murphy spent part of his Thursday doing one-on-one interviews with reporters. He spent more than 20 minutes with Packer Report publisher Bill Huber, talking about issues ranging from Brett Favre, to the economy, to the collective bargaining agreement to Ted Thompson.
Here is Part 1 of our three-part conversation, starting with Favre and moving to the economy.
Bill Huber: Well, just a boring first year on the job, hey? I remember joking a couple years ago that I should apply to be president, because Bob Harlan had done all the hard work in getting the stadium renovated. So, of course, you're hit with Brett Favre, an economic downturn and labor problems. So, what's this first year been like?
Mark Murphy: It's been great, from the standpoint of people in the organization have been great and the fans, but there's obviously been challenges. I think, the Brett Favre situation was very difficult for everyone. On the one hand, we have an iconic, legendary figure, and we want to be fair to him, but we felt like we had to act in the best interests of the organization for the long term. It was kind of a situation that no matter what we did, it was a no-win situation. But, I think we made it through, and although the season was disappointing, I do think we've solidified the quarterback situation. Aaron (Rodgers), the way he handled the situation both off the field and on, was really outstanding. So, that really gives me confidence for the future, because the reality of the NFL is, if you don't have good play at the quarterback position, you're going to struggle. I think we're solidified with that.
Bill Huber: I want to focus on other issues, but first, the obligatory Brett Favre questions. I'm not going to ask you to rehash everything, but I have a couple questions as we look forward. First, back when everything came to a climax, I don't recall if it was you or Coach McCarthy, but it was said the team at some point would review what happened and hopefully learn from it. Was that ever done, and what came out of it?
Mark Murphy: We have, and what I take away is the importance of conversation throughout the organization. This obviously wasn't just the two months before we ended up trading him. It was a four- or five-year period. Communication to me, between the coaches and players, and administration and coaches, I think looking forward, that's one of the things that – particularly as players come to the end of their career, is that everybody is on the same page. I think there were some breakdowns for that.
Bill Huber: And second on Brett, fair or not, there are a lot of angry fans out there. I know losing didn't help. Were you prepared for the deep bitterness this has caused and how it continues to split fans?
Mark Murphy: Well, it's kind of the reality of the NFL. I see it as a positive, too. It shows how passionate our fans are that they really care. Obviously, it's one of those things you get letters from people who are critical, but I've heard from an awful lot of fans that, ‘Geez, you guys were in a tough situation, but you made a decision that you had to do for the best interests of the organization.' But now, obviously, when you go 6-10, you hear from people, too. It was a very disappointing season, and we won't accept it. I think you look at, the Packers, it's pretty incredible the run we've had. This was only our second losing season in the last 17. That really speaks well of the organization. But it also, to me, it points out the importance that we can't accept it and we need to make the changes that we need to make sure we continue to win.
Bill Huber: All right, enough about Brett. I really want to focus on the economy. You know the reality out there. The NFL has laid off about 10 percent of its work force and the Redskins laid off some people, as well. Commissioner Roger Goodell said the other day, "We're seeing it with our sponsors, our partners, our broadcast partners. Clearly, our fans are being faced with less disposable income. There is a lot of fear out there." Big picture, have the Packers been hit by the economic downturn, and if so, can you discuss that?
Mark Murphy: Traditionally, the NFL has been recession-proof. But this situation is so severe that it's definitely had an effect on the league. At the league level, you've seen sponsorships are down, apparel sales are down, no-shows were up at the league level. For us, where we've seen it mostly is Pro Shop sales. Our visits remain really strong, but I think our average visitor is purchasing less than they have in the past. Also, I think we're really fortunate. We have such a strong, passionate fan base, and we haven't seen an impact on sponsorships yet. As we look to the future, we're very sensitive to, No. 1, our fans, particularly our season-ticket holders and also our business partners, that the effect the economy has had on them, and we're going to do everything we can to make sure they continue to get value. That's something, everything we do we're looking at. We haven't made a decision on whether to raise ticket prices. We have traditionally raised ticket prices every-other year. We're scheduled to raise ticket prices again this year, and we're looking at a number of different factors. We want to be at the league average. Right now, our ticket prices are slightly less than average. What we want to do there is we want to make sure we're fair to the other owners, that we're providing a fair amount in terms of the share the other teams get. But, we're also looking at the economy. It's been very hard on our fans. We want to make sure we're sensitive to our fans in that regard.
Bill Huber: With revenue sharing from the league, with TV deals taken care of and with your miles-long season-ticket waiting list, is the team well-positioned to survive this, assuming a recession doesn't turn into something much worse?
Mark Murphy: I hope so. We need to be sensitive to our fans and business partners and what they're going through and work with them. If there are things we can do to provide more value, we'll do that. We're very proud of the fact that we were the No. 1 brand in professional sports and Lambeau Field was voted the No. 1 fan experience, but we can't rest on our laurels. I do think we're positioned well, because of the tremendous support we receive from our fans, but we've got to work with them to make sure it continues.
Bill Huber: The team bought a lot of property in the area. Then, real estate prices took a plunge nationwide. Does that have any impact on the team?
Mark Murphy: Not really, because we don't have any intent to sell. Really, we purchased it with an eye to the future. Right now, we're in the process of developing a master plan for the area surrounding Lambeau Field, so the property we purchased will be really crucial in terms of potential uses. We're working with the Hammes Co. in terms of a master plan. I'm really excited about it. I think it can be really exciting for the community to look at the entire area around Lambeau and the idea would be to make it an entertainment and retail center. Between the Resch Center and Lambeau Field, you've got a pretty good anchor in terms of entertainment. So, a mixed-use retail development around this area I think can really help bring a lot of visitation to the area and really help everybody.
Bill Huber: Would that all be Packers-related businesses?
Mark Murphy: Lambeau Field would be the core of it, but it could be. That's something we're still looking at. It could be a variety of different businesses and restaurants and shops. I think, again, the purpose would be to develop an area that would bring visitation to the area. You've got Lambeau Field and the Resch Center as anchors. Could you have another couple key anchors that would help bring people in?
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Part 1 of Murphy Q&A: Talking Favre, economy
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