Q&A With President/CEO Mark Murphy


It's just a couple of weeks shy of a full year since Mark Murphy took over for Bob Harlan as the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Green Bay Packers.

Murphy sat down recently with Packers.com to reflect on that first year in office. He talked about the recently concluded football season, his relationship with General Manager Ted Thompson and Head Coach Mike McCarthy, and the future of the franchise both on and off the field.

A year ago when you assumed control, the team was coming off a very successful season and nearly reached the Super Bowl. This year obviously didn't go as well. What are your thoughts on the season and what was it like for you?

First of all, it was very disappointing. I do think it was a difficult year for a number of reasons, most importantly the losing. But I think we went through a lot as an organization as well. Both Ted (Thompson) and Mike (McCarthy) have said it's not acceptable. I think it's a tribute to Bob Harlan and everybody who's been involved with the Packers organization that the bar has been set pretty high here, and for this to be only the second losing season in the last 17 years obviously gets your attention. It's not something that we accept and we want to make sure that things change in the future.

How do you see your role on the football side of things? How much regular contact do you have with Ted and Mike, especially during the season?

I think my main role on the football side is to be supportive of both Ted and Mike. I'm available to them as a resource. I meet with Ted on a regular basis. I also have a good relationship with Mike, so I'm in constant touch with him. It's a role of supporting them. I see my role as making sure that they have what they need to be successful from a financial and resource perspective, and I would say despite the disappointing year, I still have confidence in both of them.

What have you learned about Ted and Mike after working with each of them for the past year?

They have a very good relationship, and in my position, that's something that's really important, to make sure the general manager and head coach are on the same page. I think they have great respect for each other and work well together. I've really enjoyed working with both of them.

Ted, I think, is probably one of the most misunderstood people in this community. I've really enjoyed working with him. He's one of the hardest-working people I've ever been around. He's totally dedicated to the Packers, and I think we're fortunate to have him in the position of general manager.

Is it difficult for you to see the kind of criticism he gets from some people?

Yeah, it is, especially knowing how dedicated he is and how hard he works. The reality of Ted's job is you're not going to bat 1.000. You make decisions, and some work out great, others don't. But as I look at it, I look at his entire body of work, and what I see really gives me confidence.

In the NFL, the reality is each year stands on its own and things can change. But as I look at it, Ted's been in the position four years and you look at going from four wins to eight wins to 13 wins, and everything was positive. Obviously this year wasn't what we wanted, but my sense is it's a blip, it's not a trend, and as I said, I have confidence and I really think things are moving forward with the organization.

Are you involved at all in the hiring of the new defensive coaching staff? Will you be involved at all in the team's possible pursuit of free agents, perhaps if a price tag gets really high?

The coaches, that's Mike's decision. The head coach has to make that decision. I have been involved, first of all, in terms of the decision to make the changes on the staff from the standpoint of the financial resources needed as well as contractual or legal issues. I have met with candidates. I think it's important for the candidates to meet with the president and really get a sense of the organization. We've talked about the structure here, and most people know we're different than other teams, but they don't know the specifics. So I've been meeting with the candidates, but ultimately it's Mike's decision.

In free agency, Ted will make those decisions in conjunction with Mike. I will encourage Ted and Mike to do everything they can to improve the team. We're going to look at every avenue. Nothing is sacrosanct. I think we should look at every vehicle available to try to improve the performance of the team, and where I would be available is again, if we are interested in signing free agents, just to sit down and meet with them. I think sometimes in those situations it's helpful to have somebody representing the organization, to talk about the vision of the organization and how we see ourselves. I think it sends a message to either the coaching candidate or the free agent that the organization really cares, and this is an important decision for the organization.

Not long after you arrived, you were faced with the difficult situation involving Brett Favre over the summer. Looking back, was there anything you learned from that? Do you feel that situation strengthened the communication/relationship you have with Mike and Ted?

I absolutely do. First of all, it was a very difficult situation for the entire organization. My involvement, although it was a football decision, it was of a magnitude where it really affected the entire organization. So I was probably a little more involved in that than I would be in any other decision to trade a player or handle a roster spot.

But because of that situation, I really do feel my relationship with both Ted and Mike was enhanced. One of the things I take away from it is, and this is not just the two months of the Brett Favre situation, I think it goes back over a three- or four- or five-year period where I think we can improve as an organization is in communication with our players. That's what I think I would take away is just the importance of communication at all levels, whether it's coaches to players and GM to coach and all the way through, to make sure we're in constant communication. That's where there were some breakdowns that I saw.

In your opinion, did the Packers' image take a hit during that time?

In some ways. It was a difficult situation, and it did probably. Maybe some people viewed us differently than maybe they would have in the past. But I do think there were many people that looked at it and said, 'Boy, that was a really tough situation but they made a tough decision that had to be made.'

As I look at it, I think Mike and Ted made a very difficult decision, and from a football standpoint, I think they made a decision that has solidified our quarterback position for the next decade, and that gives me confidence in the future of the team. Although it was very difficult to go through, there's not much more important than the quarterback position in the NFL, and to have stability there is really a positive for the future, and I think the decision gave us that.

I would also say how impressed I was not only with the way Aaron Rodgers performed on the field but the way he handled himself off the field. He was thrown into an extremely difficult situation, and he handled it tremendously and in a real positive way. That really, to me, bodes well for the future in terms of the kind of person he is.

Now that you've been here a full year, what were the top priorities for your first year that you feel you were able to accomplish?

I think any new president coming in, the first priority is to make sure you really understand the organization and the issues facing it. In some ways, going through a situation like we did with Brett really helped me focus in on the organization.

A top priority continues to be maximizing our revenue, identifying new revenue streams. Taking a look at the organization, I've made some changes in terms of the structure that I think in the long run will really pay dividends for the team and the organization. Creating the senior vice president of marketing and sales position, for example. Obviously one of the challenges we face in regards to revenue is the current state of the economy. I think that's going to make it even more challenging to maximize our revenue, but I think we're positioned well for it.

The other thing that I wanted to do, and it's an ongoing process, is just to make sure that we have great relations with the other teams, other NFL owners, as well as with the league office, and that continues to be a high priority.

You mentioned the new senior VP of sales and marketing and the new "senior leadership staff" of four vice presidents you created In July. Have you been pleased with that new structure?

Yes, I have been. Laura Sankey in her (marketing and sales) position has really added a lot to the organization. I think Betsy Mitchell (as vice president of organizational/staff development), I have great confidence in her and that position really helps us. And obviously Jason Wied (as vice president of administration/corporate counsel) and Vicki Vannieuwenhoven (as vice president of finance) are in similar roles that they had in the past. But I think having more people at that vice-presidential level really benefits the organization. I think you have more people discussing and examining some of the tough issues we deal with.

The other thing that I think has been a tremendous positive is Russ Ball, as the vice president of football administration and player finance. He's been invaluable in terms of having a voice on the administrative side, and I think it's given us a bridge between football and the administration that we haven't had in the past. So I see that as a real positive this year, and I think going forward it's something that will really help us.

The new Nitschke Field project is underway, but an Atrium expansion was put on hold. Can you explain the current status of those projects?

The new Nitschke Field, believe it or not, some work is being done right now despite the minus-temperatures. We're excited about it. We're going to have about 2,500 seats. I think it's going to greatly enhance the training camp experience for fans. It will be the same type of field that we have down on the surface in Lambeau. It really depends on the growing season in the spring, but we're hopeful it will be ready for training camp.

My hope is going forward that we'll have two 150-yard long grass practice fields, which will give us a lot more flexibility in terms of being able to practice outside. For training camp, I think it will be a much nicer set-up for our fans. It's really designed for the fans to watch practice. I think it also helps us from a safety standpoint. I kind of cringed when I watched some of the training camp practices last year. We had good crowds, but they were literally spilling off onto Oneida Street, and I think this will be a better situation.

We're also looking at the possibility of heating that field, which would give us the capability to practice outside later in the season. That's something that could be really helpful to football. Ted and I have talked about it. We just want to make sure if we do it, that it will be used.

The Atrium expansion is still on hold. We're still kind of monitoring, like every other business, the state of the economy. But also we are moving forward with our master planning process. We're working with the Hammes Co. on a master plan, and we want to make sure we've got that completed before we make any decisions on what we would do with the Atrium.

The gameday experience at Lambeau Field has been ranked No. 1 for the last couple of years. Can it still be improved?

I think we have to keep looking at what we're doing. First of all, we take great pride in the fact that we have been ranked No. 1, but I don't think we can afford to rest on our laurels, and I think we need to continue to look at it. One of the things we do a lot is survey our fans and try to get as much feedback as we can.

We really have something special here. The history and tradition and atmosphere here is really unique, and we look at both in the stadium and outside the stadium. Obviously this year we added the Tundra Tailgate Zone. We got a lot of feedback from fans, and I would say generally people viewed that as a positive. It was a change that enhanced the experience for people that wanted to do that, so those are the kinds of things we'll continue to look at.

I'm sure you were aware of the loyal fan base the Packers had, but after being here through a full season, were you even a little bit surprised by just how passionate Packers fans are about this team?

Yeah, I was. You read about it, but to be here first-hand and experience it, it's pretty impressive. Traveling across the league, a lot of teams talk about how great their fans are, but I can point to certain things. Selling out an intrasquad scrimmage in the summer, that's unheard of. For me, I watched our last game against Detroit, and we were 5-10 and obviously the Lions were 0-15, and just the way our fans supported us and stayed with us the whole season, even in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach, our fans were still there and supporting. That's just not something you see in the NFL, so to me, the passion and the support we have from our fans is our biggest advantage. We can never take that for granted and we have to continue to build on it and see what we can do.

That's one of the things that we're looking at. Are there different and more ways that we can connect with our fans? I think with new technology, there's some things we can do that that would be positive for our fans and for us to strengthen the connection that we have.

{sportsad300}What impact has the overall economy had on the franchise, or what impact might it have in 2009? Where are you in the discussion of whether or not to raise ticket prices?

Traditionally, the NFL has been recession-proof and hasn't been affected by downturns in the economy. But this economy is so bad and this situation is so bad that we've seen an impact at the league level and at our level. At the league level, apparel sales and sponsorships were down this past season, and no-shows were up. For us, the biggest place we saw it was in the Pro Shop, a softening in Pro Shop sales. It's something we continue to monitor.

I think we have to be very sensitive, because of our structure and the fact that we're owned by the community, to what our fans are feeling and how the economy is affecting them. As we go forward, one of the things we're dealing with right now is the decision on what we're going to do with ticket prices for next year. It's probably one of the most visible ways you connect with your fans, so we're studying it.

Our pattern has been, this decade, that every other year we increase ticket prices, so we're due to raise ticket prices, but we're in the process of evaluating that now. With the economy, does it make sense to raise tickets at this point? So we're kind of weighing the pros and cons of that, and we'll make a decision in the first part of March.

I know you can't comment in too much detail, but what's your level of concern with the upcoming labor negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, and what involvement do you expect to have at the league level?

I have serious concerns. It's a serious matter, and right now, we're really in a situation where there's a void of leadership on the NFLPA side. Gene Upshaw passed away, so I think all of us are anxious to see who eventually becomes the executive director, and then are hopeful we can establish a good working relationship with the union.

I intend to be very involved. I'm on the management council executive committee, and I look forward to it. I hope that I can be helpful to the league, and also make sure the Packers' interests are represented as well. It's very important for the future of the Packers and the NFL, and I'm hopeful that my experience with the players' association and with the collective bargaining process can be helpful to the league during this round of negotiations.

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