Packers fans on hold as NFL-union talks extended

By Steve Keating

TORONTO (Reuters) – Like every other American football fan in the United States, Green Bay mayor James Schmitt is anxiously following the drawn out talks between the NFL and players’ union, desperately hoping they reach an agreement.

As NFL owners and the players’ union haggled in Washington over how to carve up their $9 billion empire, life remained on hold in Wisconsin as negotiations were extended for another week.

In Green Bay, more than other NFL cities, life revolves around football and the Packers, who won the 45th Super Bowl in Dallas a month ago.

On Sundays when the Packers are in action, church mass is rescheduled. Weddings are planned around game schedules while birthdays and anniversary are routinely celebrated at tailgating parties under the shadow of Lambeau Field.

So, with the possibility of the NFL dispute ending in a lockout and disrupting their routine, Title Town’s resident were left wondering whether they would see their beloved Packers back on the Frozen Tundra next season.

“Our little city feels like the rest of this country when you’ve got millionaires fighting with billionaires,” Schmitt told Reuters.

“The Packers are more than a big employer that brings a lot into our economy. It’s an image for our city. It’s not just a game.

“It’s not the only thing in Green Bay but it is a very important part of Green Bay.”

Schmitt is more than just the mayor of Green Bay, like many residents, he is also a season ticket holder and has stock in the NFL’s only publicly owned team.

According to the Packers official website, nearly 5 million shares are divided among 112,158 stockholders.

That means there are more shareholders than residents in Green Bay, which has a population of just over 102,000, only slightly higher than the 72,928 capacity at the team’s stadium.

“It’s a community owned team,” said Schmitt. “When you see these things in the papers on negotiations, greed, that’s not us. We don’t have a wealthy owner.

“We don’t want to see anyone lose their jobs. We don’t want to see anything negative come out of something that has been so positive for the last 90 years.”

The mayor’s office estimates each Packers home game pours $8.7 million into the local economy while the NFLPA commissioned a report that found cancelling the 2011 season would cost each NFL city $160 million.

With the Packers being one of Green Bay’s biggest employers, a lockout would hurt the local economy, but Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College and the author of several sports business books, said it would not be as devastating as some think.

“When people take their family to watch the Packers play and spend whatever it is, $400 on that Sunday afternoon, it’s $400 they don’t have to spend to take their family out to dinner or the theater or bowling,” Zimbalist told Reuters.

“It’s money that does not get spent in one part of town, the football stadium, but is spent in another part of town.

“Green Bay is a little different, you get an influx of people.”

For most Green Bay residents the psychological and emotional impact of a lockout would be greater than the pain they would feel in their wallets.

“Can you imagine coming off a Super Bowl win not to have an opportunity to show people we can do it again,” said Schmitt.

“We love our Packers. This is part of who we are and we want to see them play.

“We’re coming off a pretty big high from Dallas and are confident we can do it again in Indianapolis. We want that opportunity.”

(Editing by Julian Linden)