Community Owned Sports Teams – Examples

 Wisconsin Timber Rattlers

The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, a class A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, are structured as a non-profit, similar to the Green Bay Packers. There are 240 members of the Appleton Baseball Club, Inc., each of whom bought from one to fifty shares in the Timber Rattlers at$25 per share. They elect a 21-member board of directors, who in turn elect an eight-member executive committee. The Timber Rattlers generate more revenue in merchandise sales than any other minor league team in the country, and in 1995 sold 209,000 tickets, a 133,000 jump over the 1994 number. Because it’s a non-profit, all this cash is in turn pumped back into the team and the stadium.


Green Bay Packers

The Green Bay Packers, one of the NFL’s best teams of the 1960s, and increasingly of the 1990s, are owned by their fans. Football champions in 1929, 1930, and 1931, Super Bowl I, II, and XXX champions, the Packers were incorporated in 1923 as a private, non-profit, tax-exempt organization. Article I of their bylaws states, “this association shall be a community project, intended to promote community welfare…its purposes shall be exclusively charitable.” The team can move only through dissolution, in which case the shareholders get only the $25 a share they put in. A board of directors, elected by the stockholders, manages the team.

This non-profit status has been threatened only once, in 1949. The Packers needed to raise more than$100,000 to avoid insolvency. Co-founder Curly Lambeau, coach since 1919, member of the board of directors, and current stadium namesake, found four men willing to invest $50,000 each if the team would become a profit-making venture. The board refused, instead choosing to authorize 10,000 shares of common stock at $25 a piece, 4,628 of which were issued. To insure that not one individual or company had too much control, the maximum number of shares per shareholder was set at 200. Instead of four owners, the team now had over 4,000. Lambeau resigned.

Theloyalty of these fans and owners is legendary. Games at Lambeau Field have been sold out for over thirty consecutive seasons. Streets are literally deserted for three hours on autumn Sunday afternoons. The waiting list for season tickets is 36,000 names long, for seats in a stadium that holds 60,000. It is common for season tickets to be willed from one generation to the next and to be hotly contested in divorce proceedings.

The bond between team and city that has been fostered through nearly fifty years of community ownership is also unique in professional sports. During training camp tradition dictates that all players -including 300 pound lineman-ride local children’s bikes to practice. Through this process players often foster friendships with individual kids throughout the preseason.

GreenBay’s metropolitan area is home to fewer than 200,000 people, yet the Packers rank in the top 20% of all professional teams in terms of franchise value. As player salaries have continued to escalate, however, the shareholders in late 1997 decided that more revenue needed to be raised for the team to remain competitive into the future. The 10,000 shares issued in 1950 were split into 10 million shares, 400,000 of which were made available to the public at $200 a piece.

Beforethe league would approve the sale, however, Commissioner Tagliabue insisted that the $80 million generated go to stadium improvements or toward a new facility; but not toward player salaries. Economically, this insistence means basically nothing, as this new money will simply free up other revenue to be used on players. But it’s significant because with the NFL’s revenue sharing plan, stadiums, and specifically luxury suites, are the reason for the disparity in income among teams. By insisting that Green Bay’s stock revenue be put into a stadium, the league is adding further fuel to the franchise free agency fire that has swept across the league since the Raiders moved from Oakland to Los Angeles in 1984. Unless a city is fortunate enough to have a generous owner with a sense of loyalty to the community, fans and citizens will either be forced to pay up themselves for a new stadium, often unwillingly, or watch their teams leave.

Publicownership, on the other hand, allows for stadium funding to come from those in the community who want to support the team. Furthermore, in cities where the team is a permanent, rooted civic asset, fans and citizens are much more willing to financially support their team. If the fans receive a commitment, they will return loyalty with loyalty, as the fans in Green Bay have overwhelmingly shown.


Harrisburg Senators

The Harrisburg Senators are owned by Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which paid $6.5 million in 1995 to acquire the AA Senators, who were planning to move to a new taxpayer-financed ballpark in Massachusetts. Instead of buckling and offering a new stadium of his own, Mayor Reed and the city of Harrisburg did something a bit more bold–they bought the team for a cool $6.7 million. It was a steep price to pay, as the private owners had bought the team only six months earlier for just $4.1 million, but the team was popular and the city had made the stadium the center of a redevelopment initiative. Citing the ballpark as the major link in his downtown revitalization project, when asked how he could afford the hefty price tag, Mayor Reed responded by asking, “How could we not?”


Memphis Redbirds

The Memphis Redbirds are the only professional team recognized by the IRS as a nonprofit, tax-exempt, charitable organization. Owner Dean Jernigan spent $8 million in 1997 to bring the AAA Redbirds to town and then promptly turned ownership over to a foundation made up of 17 civic and business leaders, and agreed not to take a salary. “If the main identity of a city is tied to a sports team, who are we going to entrust this to?” asks Jernigan. “Who can be responsible? It’s not an individual, I assure you.”

The foundation’s bylaws explicitly try to distance the team from baseball’s “old boys” ownership stigma by requiring half of the directors be women and that the Board’s ethnic backgrounds reflect the composition of the Memphis area. All operating prof its are put back into The Memphis Redbirds Baseball Foundation that funds two youth programs, RBI (Returning Baseball to the Inner City) and STRIPES(Sports Teams Returning In the Public Education System). These programs foster amateur sports, enhance education and teach life skills for the future.

The RBI program began in 1998 with 250 children from six Memphis inner-city site locations. By 2002 the program has grown to include over 750 participants at 14 sites.

Participation in the STRIPES program has reached about 1,000 youth in neighborhoods across the city from almost 40 schools.


Rochester Red Wings and Syracuse SkyChiefs

Two fan-owned teams play in upstate New York: the AAA Rochester Red Wings and Syracuse SkyChiefs. Both teams sold stock to the community in the late 1950s when their major league affiliates reduced their amount of financial support.

The Red Wings are owned by 8,000 shareholders, most of whom own fewer than five shares. The team is technically a for-profit corporation, but the club has never paid a dividend and will not do so for at least another 20 years as part ofits lease agreement with Monroe County for its 10,600 seat stadium.


Toledo Mud Hens

The Toledo Mud Hens, who courtesy of Corporal Klinger of M-A-S-H may be the most famous minor league club, have been a part of Toledo’s heritage since 1883. But in 1952, an outside investor purchased the club and moved the team to Charleston, West Virginia. Another team moved in briefly, but three years later relocated to Wichita, Kansas. Frustrated at this game of musical chairs, civic leaders in 1965 created the Toledo Mud Hens Baseball Club non-profit corporation, and with financial backing from Lucas county, acquired the Richmond, Virginia franchise. The team is now permanently rooted in Toledo.