The Packers' Family Night Scrimmage is tonight, and in the opinion of this scribe, no other date on the Packers' schedule is more important. Not a game with the Bears. Not a game with the Vikings. Not even a prime-time, nationally televised matchup with a playoff spot on the line.
No, Family Night is much bigger than that. It is the Packers' long-term financial lifeline for reasons other than $10 the team is making per ticket.
For decades, dating to the 1920s, the Packers have always had the undying support of their fans. Just look at the four stock sales that have essentially "saved" the only public-owned franchise in major sports. In 1923, $5,000 was raised. In 1935, $15,000. In 1950, a total of $118,000. And in 1997, more than a whopping $24 million was generated. All that money for no future financial gain to its contributor. Just a piece of paper and pride in owning part of the Packers.
When the Packers have called, the fans have answered – unconditionally in many cases.
Support like that has its challenges in today's economic climate. Sure, the season-ticket waiting list is healthy at more than 75,000 names long, but that alone is not enough. Football has become more than ticket sales, and in small-town Green Bay, there are measures that need to be taken to keep the team viable. The Packers organization cannot always assume the fans will be there.
A year ago, dwindling attendance near the end of training camp in Green Bay were eye-opening, if not a sign of the times. Not since the mid-1980s did it seem like the numbers at practices were so low. Longtime beat writers and fans took notice. In the wake of the Brett Favre drama, were fans just disinterested? The Packers have shown that they might be able to replace Favre on the field, but what about off it? For those who think the Favre brand was overrated, consider the marketing deal the Packers were feverishly trying to get done with No. 4 last year.
The recent shareholders meeting at Lambeau showed that the Packers' profits were understandably down, making this a critical period in which the Packers have to keep their fans' interest. Even a brief downturn can turn into a longer-than-anticipated struggle. Fans who might spend money elsewhere today for more practical reasons might continue to do so by way of habit or a shift in focus. There is even a chance Packers football might not be as relevant some day. Could that be?
This is where Family Night comes in. The Packers have done and need to continue to do a good job capturing the imagination of the younger fans. They need to give them a better reason to take over the family's season tickets. They need to give them a reason look forward to each game season after season. They need to give them a reason to dream, because for many of the fans at Lambeau tonight, it might be the only chance.
The youth of Packers Nation has to be captivated because they are the only group that can carry the Packers forward for another 90 years. Family Night, albeit just one night and 70,000 fans, has the power to do that.
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org