Tuesday, December 18, 2012 – 173 views
— by jhubball
The Green Bay Packers are quite the anomaly.
Typically, pro teams are located in major media markets and owned by one very wealthy person or some corporate entity. The Packers are based in the city of Green Bay, Wisconsin, population of around 100,000, and are the only community-owned franchise in American professional sports. Put simply, the fans of the team are the shareholders.
There have been five separate offerings of the team's stock since 1950, with the proceeds going mainly to development projects such as maintaining and expanding historic Lambeau Field. Prior to the most recent stock sale that began in 2011, there were 112,015 people who could lay claim to a franchise interest and the accompanying voting rights. Newly purchased shares can be given as gifts, and once ownership is established, share transfers can take place between immediate family members.1 Imagine growing up around Green Bay and inheriting not just a passion for the local team, but actual ownership as well.
Owning a share of the Packers is mostly symbolic. The redemption price is minimal, no dividends are ever paid and the stock cannot appreciate in value. My friend @Andrew, a die-hard Pack fan who grew up outside of Milwaukee, proudly owns a share that is framed and displayed prominently in his home. But this overall structure serves a very important purpose. Stockholders elect a board of directors who in turn select a seven member Executive Committee that makes all major decisions. Fans have an actual say in how the team is run.
This unique setup also means the team is free, if not compelled, to operate with the interests of its fans squarely in mind. It's also free to be completely transparent, and is in fact the only major sports franchise to release a balance sheet every year. Without this alignment of interests, it's likely that Green Bay, WI would have been abandoned for "greener" pastures decades ago, breaking the special bond that exists between the team and so many people. It's also fair to say there could be some correlation with Green Bay's 13 league championships, more than any other team in the NFL. After all, what does a fan want more from their team but victories?
The Green Bay Packers were not the original inspiration for App.net, and there are clear differences in structure between the two. But there is parallel in the way the service has purposefully aligned its interests with users and developers. App.net users will forever retain control and ownership over their data, which can be exported or shared across other services at any time. App.net is also committed to a predictable and sustainable business model that will allow for continued growth without the need to one day compromise its principles in order to please advertisers or increase enterprise valuation. Since users and developers fund the service with subscription payments, they are the only constituents. All of this is done out in the open, with transparency on everything from user growth to product roadmap. In other words, App.net won't call moving trucks in the middle of the night and move on to some other business model that does not put users first, or pull the rug out from underneath developers investing their time and energy into building apps for the platform.
It is interesting to think about whether a team could be set up today to operate like the Packers. I think the answer is likely "not a chance". NFL rules actually prohibit more than 32 owners per team (Green Bay's exemption was grandfathered), and the league is acutely focused on growing profits and franchise valuations. But it's refreshing to know that a new social network and app ecosystem can start out as a place where you will be the customer not the product, where you have a say in how you post and consume content, and where you have total control over what happens to your data. Who knows, at some point we may even see an App.net Bobblehead night.
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