A recent article by Richard Ryman of the Green Bay Press-Gazette talks about how the Green Bay Packers have quietly bought quite a bit of land near Lambeau Field over the past eight years.
The team owns 62 total acres now and while they aren’t saying exactly what their plans are for all of that space, surely they have some ideas.
While there has never been and likely won’t be a chance in hell that the Packers ever leave Green Bay, this development further cements the team in the city’s landscape.
For a team from the NFL’s smallest market, they certainly have done a lot with their building over the last 12 years. Back in 2002, Lambeau Field was renovated and the current atrium was added on. Last season, over 7,000 seats were added to the south end zone.
Currently, the stadium is undergoing several major changes, including the movement of the Packers Hall of Fame from the basement to the current location of Curly’s Pub. Curly’s will move to where the current pro shop is. The pro shop will move to the ground level below the current atrium floor. Most of these changes will offer improved parking and access.
While the team itself nears it’s 100th birthday, the organization is very much looking ahead to the future.
The potential development of the land around Lambeau Field will come with the goal of increasing traffic to the area by fans both in Green Bay and outside of the area. The NFL as a whole has expanded their marketing and reach to fans from all areas of the globe. It’s a $10 billion a year business and they want to squeeze every dollar they can from every corner.
Many new stadiums and arenas are now being built with the “multi-plex” model in mind. No longer is it just about a place for the home team to play. Shopping, dining and the uber gameday experience are in the crosshairs of team executives and city officials. The Arizona Cardinals opened University of Phoenix stadium back in 2006 in the city of Glendale, located 25 miles outside of Phoenix. The stadium was an anchor to Westgate, which also houses the city’s NHL franchise Phoenix Coyotes. In addition, there is an entire shopping are with several restaurants and bars. The goal is a full time draw, even when there is no game.
While the NFL is growing in its popularity and fans have more access to tickets then ever before (thanks to the secondary market), Green Bay still remains a pilgrimage to most who are coming from outside of Green Bay. By the time the average guy has secured his tickets, there’s still the matter of getting to Green Bay. Flights are not always cheap direct into the city and many opt to fly into Milwaukee or Chicago and drive up, which is a two or three hour drive. Hotel rooms in either Green Bay itself or Appleton (29 miles up Highway 41) are tough to come by once the schedule has been announced and the eight home game dates are known. One upside, and because of the extreme hospitality around Green Bay, is that parking is easy to find most anywhere you look. If not at the stadium itself, most anyone living nearby will gladly give up part of their driveway or lawn for a decent fee on game days.
While that all may sound like a lot, it’s not that much different from other NFL venues. Still, Green Bay gets that “middle of nowhere” rap sometimes and the fan perception can lead to some apprehension about visiting one of the most historic venues in all of sports. The Packers know that if they are going to entice more outsiders to Green Bay, they are going to have to make it attractive beyond the game itself.
A few more stores and restaurants probably won’t do that by itself, but they have the right idea over the long term. That also, however, raises concerns for the more hardcore fans of the team who are frustrated by a more “watered down” crowd that is more about the experience and less about supporting the Packers and getting loud during the game. That’s another topic for another day. As long as there is money to be made, decisions will slant in that direction so we might as well get used to it.
Last season, the Packers were in the unfamiliar situation of hosting a playoff game that was not sold out heading into the week of the game. Some fans cited the extreme cold weather, a factor that was very much the Packers’ advantage in years past. To many fans, the experience of watching a game on television from the warmth and comfort of the living room actually superseded being there for a precious home playoff game. Much of the reasoning, however, was said to be because of a team decision to require regular ticket holders to pay in advance for their postseason tickets and collect payment sooner than usual. That the deadline fell during the team’s struggles without Aaron Rodgers last year didn’t help and many fans opted not to part with their hard-earned cash for games that weren’t likely to happen at that point.
That experience may have humbled the team a bit and caused them to realize that a packed house is not always guaranteed when the situation is less than ideal (weather, player injuries, etc). I have been to Lambeau three times myself, the first being in 2002 during that major renovation. I was impressed by the experience back then. To see these future plans only solidifies my intent to return and rest assured, I’ll be one of the loud ones.
To see growth in Green Bay and the team’s involvement with it should create a greater sense of partnership between the Packers and the city itself. Hopefully it will also mean a continuously improving experience for those visiting the hallowed grounds of Lambeau Field.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: