How Packers’ stock differs from Braves and others

The Falcons’ next opponent has more than 360,000 owners, none of whom can make money on their stake in the team.

The Green Bay Packers have a unique ownership model that dates to the 1920s and makes them the only team in U.S. sports literally owned by the fans.

The Packers have sold stock on five occasions over the past 93 years, most recently in 2011-12, and now have more than 5 million shares outstanding. But the shares aren’t traded on any stock exchange, don’t pay a dividend, can’t be resold (except back to the team for a fraction of the original price) and can be transferred only to family members.

Such restrictions haven’t dissuaded Packers shareholders, whose real investment is emotional.

“Initially, the stock was bought by the community to keep the team afloat. Now, it is sold to people as sort of a neat little piece of fandom,” said Robert Boland, director of the sports administration master’s program at Ohio University.

“It’s an organized fan club with some official (indication) of membership — in this case, a stock certificate. … And I do think there is something in that market where Packer owners sort of stand a tiptoe taller.”

The Packers’ stock is not the same thing as, say, the stock available in the Atlanta Braves and New York Knicks/Rangers.

The Braves stock – a tracking stock issued in April by Liberty Media for the team and its mixed-use development around SunTrust Park – trades publicly on the Nasdaq exchange. Similarly, shares can be bought and sold in Madison Square Garden Co., which includes the Knicks, Rangers, their iconic arena and other assets.

As one of several Liberty Media tracking stocks, the Braves shares are intended to reflect the franchise’s financial performance separate from the rest of the Colorado-based conglomerate while keeping the team under Liberty ownership.

Some Braves fans have said they bought a few shares for emotional reasons — a la Packers fans — but the vast majority of the stock is held by investors seeking price appreciation, perhaps from increased revenue in SunTrust Park or from improvement on the field after three consecutive losing seasons.

“I think the catalysts of value there are, first, we have the new stadium opening,” Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei said at an investment conference last month. “I think we’ll get a nice bump on revenues there.

“The reality is on-field performance has some correlation with market perception,” Maffei added, referring to the stock price. “People think a hot team trades better.”

The Packers don’t have to worry about market perception.

They have sold stock on five occasions – in 1923 for $5 per share, 1935 for $25 per share, 1950 for $25 per share, 1997-98 for $200 per share and 2011-12 for $250 per share. The first three offerings were to rescue the franchise from financial trouble and the last two for stadium development.

Except during offering periods, no Packers stock is sold. The team has no current plan for another offering, meaning there’s no way to join the 360,920 owners other than a transfer of stock from a family member.

The most recent offering, which ended in February 2012, netted $64 million for a Lambeau Field expansion, with more than 250,000 fans purchasing 269,000 shares.

“It keeps working,” Boland said, attributing the success of the Packers’ stock program to the novelty of it. “I have a friend who worked his life in sports and bought a share of Packers stock for both his children.”

Current NFL rules wouldn’t allow a similar model, requiring each team to have a controlling owner whose family owns at least 30 percent. Only the Packers are exempt.

Most of the Packers stockholders are Wisconsin residents, but shares are owned by people in all 50 states. No season-ticket rights are connected to the stock. (No doubt, though, some Packers owners will find their way into the Georgia Dome on Sunday.)

The shareholders hold an annual meeting each summer at Lambeau Field, where they hear reports from team executives and vote on a board of directors.

The board appoints a seven-member executive committee, including a president, that runs the business of the franchise and makes the type of decisions a single owner might shape with the NFL’s other franchises.

The Packers’ bylaws prevent anyone from owning more than 200,000 shares, a safeguard against an individual taking control. And they stipulate proceeds would go to charity if the team is ever sold, a safeguard enacted to ensure the Packers remain in Green Bay and shareholders remain free of financial incentive.

“The Packers are sort of a living exception to all the rules of sports today,” Boland said.