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MT5: COVID-19 pandemic challenging all of us

Murphy Takes 5 is a monthly column written by President and CEO Mark Murphy

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Lambeau Field

On the first Saturday of every month, Mark will write about a topic of interest to Packers fans and the organization, and then answer five fan questions. Fans are encouraged to email Mark with their name and hometown at:MurphyTakes5@packers.com.

The current situation with the novel coronavirus that we all find ourselves in is really unprecedented. In my lifetime, the closest situation to it was 9/11. While 9/11 was horrific and caused fear among all of us, it was relatively short-lived and most of the nation was able to get back to their normal lives in a short period of time. With COVID-19, there is much uncertainty regarding when we will be able to get back to some sense of normalcy.

The Packers have tried to do what we can to help educate our fans and people in the community about steps they can take to slow the spread of COVID-19. We've posted messages on our website and social media from our players and alumni, Head Coach Matt LaFleur recorded two PSA videos and we've put messages on our videoboards and the marquee signs at Lambeau Field. The messages have focused on staying home, staying socially distant (by the way, while I realize that the walleye are spawning now, I don't think you can have three to four people in a boat and be six feet apart!) and practicing proper hand hygiene (it may be just me, but 20 seconds seems like a long time). Also, realizing that people are looking for things to do at home, we've provided free access to historic Packers games (through NFL Game Pass), created printable content designed for school-age children and recently released "Legacy," the 10-part documentary celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Packers. "Legacy" is available on our website or through our free connected TV app, available on Apple TV, Roku and Amazon Fire TV devices.

We've also made it a priority to provide support to those impacted by the pandemic in our community. We donated a total of $1.5 million to establish two COVID-19 community relief funds, with $1 million directed to organizations in Brown County and $500,000 for Milwaukee initiatives. We also donated $30,000 to the Brown County United Way's emergency response fund. In addition, through an effort led by Adam Korzun, our director of performance nutrition, our team dining staff have been providing 1,400 meals a week to healthcare employees and employees of local school districts who are responsible for ensuring that all students have access to lunch.

We closed all of our businesses at Lambeau Field and Titletown on March 13, and with a few exceptions, all of our employees have been working from home since then. I'm very proud of our employees. They have adjusted well to these dramatic changes and kept the organization functioning well during the pandemic. While we have closed our businesses and public operations at Lambeau Field and Titletown, our football operations have continued, although in a very different manner. The league year started in early March and free agency went forward, but with a travel ban and without player physicals. We are gearing up for the draft at the end of the month. The public aspect of the draft was cancelled, but the draft will go ahead as planned, with a much different look than in recent years. The league has received criticism for going forward with free agency and the draft in the middle of a pandemic. Due to the uncertainty mentioned above, though, we weren't sure that conditions would be better if we postponed free agency or the draft for a set period of time, and felt that we could take steps now that would ensure that players and employees would be safe during these events. I also think that our fans have enjoyed following free agency and are looking forward to the draft, as these events are distractions from the daily news reports and worries about the coronavirus.

I hope you are all holding up well during this challenging time. Let's do what we can (stay at home, stay six feet apart from others and wash your hands regularly) to flatten the curve.

Now, on to your questions…

A question from Tom

Mark, given the economic fallout from the coronavirus, has there been any consideration given to delaying season ticket payments to a later date?

Thanks for raising this issue, Tom. I think your question came in just before we made the decision to move the payment deadline back to June 1. As you note, we realize that many people are facing financial difficulties now and we wanted to be able to help. We don't plan on extending the deadline further or providing refunds, but we will work with people who are facing extreme circumstances.

Bob from Marinette, WI

What will the offseason programs for the teams look like this year? I know they are scheduled to start soon.

You're right, Bob, the offseason programs for teams with new head coaches were scheduled to start on Monday. With so many states under stay-at-home orders through the end of the month, the normal offseason programs will obviously not start as planned. The details of the offseason programs are being worked out with the NFLPA, but much of it will likely be handled virtually with players communicating with their strength coaches as well as position coaches. Hopefully we will be able have some on-field work with players later in the offseason. I think you also want to be able to give players a few weeks off before the start of training camp, but obviously so much of this is up in the air depending on the virus. This offseason reminds me of 2011 when we really had no offseason due to the work stoppage. You have to be flexible.

Jill from Hudson, WI

I read that the NFL decided to move ahead with the draft as scheduled. While I am excited to watch the draft and think the league made the right decision, I'm wondering what the draft will look like and how the teams will conduct the draft.

Great question, Jill. In many ways, the draft will be like it was years ago before it became a major public event. The focus will be on the teams and the players that are selected, but technology will obviously be crucial. The league described the concept as a hub with four spokes. The hub will be the league office and Roger Goodell, and will be where the selections are announced. The four spokes will be the draftees, the clubs, fans and former and current players. There will be cameras in various locations to interview people within the four spokes. In terms of how the clubs will handle the operation of the selection process, the details of this are still being worked out. The issue is that many of the states have stay-at-home orders in place that will prohibit employees from conducting the draft from their facilities. The league's main priorities are the health and safety of everyone involved with the draft and to ensure that the draft is held in a manner that is equitable to all teams.

Frank from Mystic, IA

With the 2020 draft coming up, I was just wondering if you might ever consider having a contest for one or two lucky winners to attend the Packers' war room during the draft? I am not the most knowledgeable when it comes to the draft, but I know that it would be the chance of a lifetime and probably a dream come true for every TRUE Packers fan!!

While I appreciate your creativity, Frank, I don't think this would be the best year to kick off this contest. I've been fortunate to be in our draft room for the last 12 years, and it is fascinating to watch the process unfold. That said, though, it is a very private and confidential process and I don't think it would make sense to bring fans into the room. Hopefully if and when we host the draft you will be able to attend and watch it from that perspective.

Michael from De Pere, WI

I was surprised that the vote to ratify the new collective bargaining agreement was so close. What are your thoughts about the new CBA?

With all that we've been dealing with recently with regard to the coronavirus, it seems like the CBA was ratified a year ago. The ratification of the CBA is extremely significant, though, for everyone involved with the game, as it guarantees 11 years of labor peace. The vote was certainly very close, Michael. The final vote was 1,019 to 959. I was not surprised that the vote was close. A number of prominent players had spoken out against the negotiated agreement, and I knew that they would influence many players. In the end, though, it passed because it was good for the vast majority of players in the league. The NFLPA's priority had been to get more money and benefits to core players – veteran players who have been in the league for a number of years but are not stars. The rank-and-file members of the union, if you will. The main way we accomplished this was to increase minimum salaries. Minimum salaries went up by an average of approximately 20% and will continue to increase during the course of the CBA. Given that approximately 65% of our players are on minimum-salary contracts, you understand why the NFLPA made increasing minimum salaries a top priority. The situation reminds me of what Ed Garvey was concerned about in 1982 with his proposal for 55% of the gross revenue. He was concerned that unless you had a wage scale (with high minimum salaries), a disproportionate amount of the money would go to star players. I've always felt that the star players will be able to get their money, and that the union's role is to ensure that the other players are compensated fairly. The most controversial part of the CBA for the players is the move to 17 regular-season games (the league can move to 17 games in 2021). I was really torn on this issue. As a former player, I understand the risk of playing an extra game and the overall safety concerns. However, I also see how the preseason has changed over the last decade (fewer and fewer starters are playing in the preseason) and see the benefit of having fewer preseason games. The move to 17 games creates additional revenue that allowed us to fund the increased minimum salaries and benefits for players. The new CBA puts the league in a great position as we enter into negotiations with networks, digital companies and sponsors, which will benefit players and teams over the next 11 years.

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