GREEN BAY — With their 2021 fiscal year balance sheet battered by pandemic-induced losses — but not nearly as badly as it could have been — the Green Bay Packers failed to turn a profit for the first time in two decades last year.
But as ugly as the bottom line might have looked compared to the many years where the club was making money hand-over-fist, it was still team president/CEO Mark Murphy’s preferred topic of conversation Friday afternoon, as opposed to the questions he surely anticipated about disgruntled quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whose future with the team remains up in the air with less than two weeks to go before the start of training camp.
After presenting a thumbnail version of the team’s balance sheet to reporters, Murphy was asked during a Q&A session via Zoom whether he knew if Rodgers was planning to report to training camp on July 27 after skipping the offseason program amid his unhappiness with the organization and, specifically, the front office — led by general manager Brian Gutekunst.
Murphy said he appreciated the question, then replied: “This is really limited to questions regarding financial statements. I would just say there’s nothing new to update on the issue that you raised.”
At another point in the session with reporters, Murphy was asked how much having two Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterbacks — Brett Favre, a 2015 Hall inductee, and Rodgers, who’ll likely be a first-ballot pick following the five-year post-retirement waiting period — has helped the team have unprecedented success over the past three decades.
The team’s on-field success has led to a renovated Lambeau Field, major upgrades to the facilities and the famed Titletown entertainment, business and residential district across the street from the iconic stadium.
“It certainly helps,” Murphy replied, smiling in acknowledgement of the thinly-disguised Rodgers-related query. “Obviously, there’s a lot of things that go into making a successful football team. Even more so when you talk about successful business organizations and teams. We’re very appreciative of the great play we’ve had, (and) not just quarterbacks. We’ve had really outstanding players at a lot of different positions.”
Murphy was also asked what an acrimonious training camp — like the summer of 2008, when Favre was eventually traded to the New York Jets — or Rodgers not playing for the organization ever again might do to the team’s finances. After initially declining to answer, Murphy and vice president of finance and administration Paul Baniel pointed out that the team’s sellout streak, which began in 1961, remained intact even as the team transitioned from Favre to Rodgers that season.
“And you know,” Murphy added, “the person that replaced Brett Favre did pretty well.”
While Rodgers’ uncertain status may be causing consternation behind closed doors at 1265 Lombardi Avenue, the team was pleased to have survived the financial challenges of COVID-19 without having to dip into its rainy-day corporate reserve fund (which now stands at $511 million) and having lost $38.8 million from operations during the fiscal year.
The NFL’s revenue sharing delivered a record $309.2 million in national revenue that allowed the Packers to operate effectively as the league managed to play a full season despite the pandemic. Overall, the Packers actually finished in the black with $60.7 million in net income, but Murphy acknowledged that was almost exclusively due to unexpectedly outstanding performance by the team’s investment portfolio.
With no paying customers in the stands for the team’s eight regular-season home games, and ticket revenue for the team’s two home playoff games being part of the national revenue pie, the Packers’ local revenue fell from $210.9 million in the pre-pandemic fiscal year to just $61.8 million last year.
“Our local revenue was significantly impacted. Still, we really feel that we remain in a strong financial position going forward and that we will continue to be able to provide the resources for the organization to be successful both on and off the field,” Murphy said. “As we all faced health and economic challenges with the pandemic, we really feel we emerged in a very good financial position.”
Still, Murphy said the losses marked the first time the team failed to be profitable since before the 2003 redevelopment of Lambeau Field, and he cited the corporate reserve fund for having given the team collateral to use its line of credit to avoid dipping into the fund.
Murphy said the team also incurred significant expenses related to the pandemic — primarily the costs of daily COVID-19 testing for players and staff and the costs of disinfecting the facility each day. Baniel estimated the costs to be in the “middle seven figures.”
“I think each test was $120,” Murphy said. “That adds up quickly.”
With the Delta variant of the coronavirus causing nationwide concern and vaccination reluctance an issue among some Americans, Murphy acknowledged that COVID-19 could still impact the 2021 season, even with the team set for 100% capacity at games.
“We’re not out of it yet,” Murphy said. “It’s still a concern.”
Murphy also acknowledged that having players and/or staff who choose not to get vaccinated is an “issue” that could put the team at a competitive disadvantage this season. Although the league isn’t mandating that players and coaches get vaccinated, it has put a host of restrictions on those who aren’t.
“At the league level, the protocols that have been put in place provide very strong incentives for players to be vaccinated,” Murphy said. “The biggest one is if you’re not vaccinated, you have to get tested every single day. If you’re vaccinated, you only have to get tested once every 14 days.
“We’re doing everything we can to encourage people to get vaccinated — not just our players, but our fans. We’re all in this together. It’s a community effort and the more we all get vaccinated, the safer we all are.”
Murphy also addressed myriad other topics:
• The Packers’ international game, whenever it is, will be in London. With the NFL’s expanded 17-game schedule, teams with a ninth home game will be considered for international play. The Packers’ extra game this season is at Kansas City, but they could head overseas as soon as 2022.
As the only remaining team to not have played an international game, Murphy said, “My preference would be sooner rather than later. I think it would be good for the organization. And the theory is, in those years you have nine home games, if you take one away, you still have what you would normally have or what you had in the past.
“It would be nice to have nine home games, but I also know we have a lot of fans in Europe, we have a lot of fans in London who would really appreciate it.”
• The Packers are hoping to learn in October if Green Bay will be awarded the 2024 NFL draft. Detroit, Washington D.C. and Green Bay are the league’s three finalists, with the draft set to be held in Las Vegas next year and Kansas City in 2023.
• The team paused a planned renovation of the Lambeau Field concourses because of the impact COVID-19 had on finances.
• The team is studying the idea of building a new football facility in addition to the Don Hutson Center that would expand the CRIC (“Conditioning, Rehabilitation and Instruction Center”) that was added to Lambeau Field in 2013.