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Feature Story

At Home with the Cheeseheads in Green Bay (Green Bay, Wisconsin)

A Green Bay fan in regalia: green and yellow face-paint.

In this segment, host Will Durst takes us to fan-lined Lambeau Field, home of the NFL football franchise, Green Bay Packers, where the local die-hard "cheeseheads," as they are known, celebrate local identity and pride and, most importantly, local ownership. The Packers, named for Green Bay's cheese packers and manufacturing workers, almost went bankrupt in the 1920s, until the community stepped in and reorganized the franchise into a non-profit entity -- selling shares in the team to the community.

For over 70 years, the team has been the only major sports franchise to be owned by the community in which it is based, and since 1960 NFL rules have prohibited public ownership of football franchises. Packers' owners' individual shares can never be cashed in more than their purchase price, but the wide local ownership arrangement has continually added new vigor to town pride and resources to civic groups -- not to mention all it's done for the guys who sell those ever-stylish cheesehead hats. Volunteers from local charities work home game concessions, in which 60 percent of profits go to charities.

Such pride of ownership is no small matter when you consider that since 1950, 68 communities have lost their major sports teams to franchise moves. In the last six years alone, eight professional teams relocated, most of which were lured by a new stadium offering in another city. When it comes to sports, communities across the country have proven that almost no price is too high to win, or keep, their teams. In 1998, US cities and states issued about $1.7 billion in bonds for stadium and sports complex deals, compared to $473 million in bonds for library and museums.

Only a few teams currently have any form of public ownership, including, along with the Packers, the Boston Celtics and the Florida Panthers. The success of these deals has helped coalesce a growing movement to relax restrictions against public sports team ownership, and last Spring, Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon introduced a bill championing this cause in the House of Representatives, dubbed the "Give Fans a Chance" bill.

More about community team ownership:

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