Packer charity agenda better than Super Bowl win

The Green Bay Packers had a solid year on the field in 2014, but enjoyed — a few player indiscretions notwithstanding — a great year off the field.

Its annual report reported a 16% increase in revenue to $376 million, a 10.5% increase in net income to $29 million and a 5% increase in net worth to $489 million.

Not too shabby for a non-profit corporation. Most for-profit corporations would kill for that kind of revenue growth and margins of 8% on the bottom line.

The Pack has $358 million in cash on the books, a very healthy reserve. The Packer board of directors, including many sharp business executives, has always wanted to build a reserve big enough to compete with the billionaires who own other NFL franchises. There was great anxiety in the Fox Valley in years past about getting blown away in a big money game. The big reserve addresses such potential threats.

The organization, the only non-profit owned by shareholders (I’m one), to my knowledge, did put $126 million in debt on its books to pull off the ninth renovation of Lambeau Field. Its cash flows are plenty strong enough to pay off that level of debt.

The continuous, major improvements to Lambeau are insurance that the Packers, domiciled in the league’s smallest market, will stay competitive. A trip to Lambeau is a trip to Mecca for avid NFL football fans.

There is more good news off the field. The .5% sales tax in Brown County that was levied to pay off the 2003 renovation — at $300-plus million — goes away in September. The rest of us fans in the state owe those taxpayers a big “thank you.” There was no state help, as has been part of the finance package for the new Milwaukee Bucks arena.

Perhaps the best off-field news is that the profitability of the Packers has allowed the board to step up its charitable and civic agenda. What could be better for the image and reputation of the Pack than to be all about improving the well being of the state through charitable leadership and funding?

Of note in the 2014 annual report, five of 20 pages were devoted to football and nine to its charitable and civic contributions and activities.

GBP-Foundation-LogoThe Green Bay Packers Foundation, created separate from the parent non-profit organization in 1986, now has $19 million in market value. And it dispensed $1.1 million last year to 229 causes across the state. Foundation assets were only $5 million in 2011.

The Pack estimates its charitable impact, which includes appearances, donated items, autographs and support of events, at $6 million. In other words, the Packers don’t just write checks to the charities; they put themselves in. Packer players give generously of their time. There were more than 10,000 requests for help in 2014.

This dimension of the Packers looks even better going forward. The parent organization put $6 million into the foundation last year to get to the $19 million level. If that pattern continues in future years, the principal in the foundation will grow rapidly, and the Packers could become a major force for positive initiatives in the state.

The grants go to a broad spectrum of programs, from scholarships for students, support for veterans, food banks, tree planting and breast cancer awareness to shelters for the homeless.

The contribution ethic is spreading. Coach Mike McCarthy and All Pro Jordy Nelson have set up their own charitable foundations. Will more players with big contracts follow suit?

All of this giving back creates a far better public image for professional sports than the greed image portrayed by some players and owners. Playing it forward offsets the negatives of that come with outlandish big salaries.

It will have a similar positive effect as billionaires like Gates and Buffet have had on the face of capitalism when they pledged to leave all their assets to charity. The greed factor fades in the face of such generosity.

The merging charitable profile of the Green Bay Packers gives us all one more reason to cheer the team on to a Super Bowl 50 win.

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