GREEN BAY – The Packers will play their first international game in more than 20 years when they travel to Winnipeg next month for a preseason game against the Oakland Raiders.
Make no mistake, though. The organization still wants to play in London – and hopefully sooner, not later.
"I told the league office playing in Winnipeg doesn't count," said President/CEO Mark Murphy to laughter and applause from the 4,200 in attendance at Wednesday's shareholders meeting at Lambeau Field.
Upon completion of the 2019 NFL season, the Packers will be the only team that has yet to play a regular-season game in the NFL's International Series, which began in 2007. Houston and Carolina, the two other teams that previously hadn't played outside the U.S., are both scheduled to play in London this year.
The snag with shipping the Packers has been well-documented. Green Bay, the league's only community-owned team, isn't willing to concede one of its coveted eight regular-season home games, while opponents have been reluctant to move their home games overseas due to the Packers' drawing power on the road.
Perhaps the best evidence of that came this past October when the relocating Rams and Packers packed 75,822 into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
There was hope the Chargers, L.A.'s other transplant, might bring the Packers to England in 2019, but the two teams will instead play in the Chargers' temporary home, Dignity Health Sports Park, which seats around 30,000.
"That was one we thought there was a chance," Murphy said. "The Rams game last year, those of you who were there could see why they didn't give it up. More than half the fans there in a huge stadium were Packers fans. The Chargers' stadium is relatively small … but we're looking forward to going out to LA. We'll have to be satisfied with Winnipeg for now."
While it's not a regular-season game in London, next month's trip to Canada will mark the Packers' first international contest since they played Kansas City in a preseason game at the Tokyo Dome on Aug. 2, 1998.
One other possibility that could help the Packers' overseas cause is the potential of more international opportunities if the NFL were to add a 17th regular-season game. Regardless, Murphy believes it's in the best interest of all parties involved to give the franchise that opportunity.
"Working with the league, that would be our hope," Murphy said. "Quite honestly, I think it would be great for our fans but I think it would be good for the league, too, to have an organization or a team like the Packers who are so popular globally for us to play overseas."
Following Wednesday's meeting, Murphy also said the Packers are still vying to host an NFL Draft, submitting applications for 2022 and 2024 (the 2023 draft is already scheduled to be held in Kansas City).
Murphy believes the continued development of Titletown and construction of the new Brown County Expo Center, which will be located across the street from Lambeau Field, could be appetizing to the league despite Green Bay's small population. The $93 million facility is slated to open in early 2021.
The NFL began sending the draft to different cities in 2015, with the intention of bringing it to the franchises and fan bases that are unlikely to host a Super Bowl for geographical or climate reasons.
"Obviously we're probably not going to get 600,000 people here for three days," said Murphy, alluding to how many people attended the draft this past April in Nashville. "I don't think it's all about the revenue. Given our history and tradition, the reality is Bears fans, Vikings fans could drive up for a day. You don't have to have 50,000 hotel rooms. We're going to keep pushing for it because I think it would be great for the organization and community."
President/CEO Mark Murphy and other leaders of the Packers organization addressed the Shareholders inside Lambeau Field on July 24, 2019.
Murphy reiterated the organization is on solid footing financially despite an increase in operational costs this past year as a result of coaching changes, the NFL concussion settlement and costs associated with player acquisition and retention.
"In some ways, it's the cost of doing business in our league," Murphy said. "We've been fortunate we've had continuity. … Two years in a row, we've had changes. Last year was Ted (Thompson) and Dom Capers and this year it was Mike McCarthy and his staff. That contributed to having lower profits than in the past.
"There was also the concession settlement. I view that as a positive. We've reached an agreement with our former players and doing right by them."
After inclement weather forced last year's evening shareholders meeting indoors, the organization reverted back to its previous setup this year with a late morning session.
With clear skies, General Manager Brian Gutekunst made his first live public address to Packers shareholders. A video interview with new Head Coach Matt LaFleur also garnered applause from those in attendance, which help make up the 361,256 shareholders who own 5,956,300 shares in the team.
"I have tremendous confidence in Brian and now Matt," Murphy said. "One of the things that really gives me confidence for the future is the relationship I see develop between Brian and Matt. Communication is excellent and I think that really bodes well for the future."