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Remodeled Lambeau Gives Packers A Major Boost


With the $295 million makeover of Lambeau Field complete, the Green Bay Packers are expecting another banner year when they deliver their annual report to stockholders in June.

The fiscal year ends March 31, and team treasurer John R. Underwood said it's too soon to estimate the windfall or how much it will swell the team's rainy day reserve fund, largely because of player contract bonuses that will soon be doled out.

But he said a preliminary review shows the team will get another boost from the stadium redevelopment, which was completed in late August.

Last year, the Packers reported net income after taxes of about $15.5 million, "and we hope to be somewhere in that neighborhood this year," Underwood told The Associated Press. "But that's largely dependent on some player contracts out there that are ... going to impact how that final number plays out."

Left tackle Chad Clifton is seeking a signing bonus in the $12 million to $13 million range, an amortized portion of which would affect the 2004 fiscal year's bottom line.

The Packers placed the franchise tag on Clifton last week, so they must clear $5.5 million in salary cap space by restructuring several veterans' contracts to fit Clifton's $7.021 million salary for 2004 under the $80.6 million salary cap if they don't have a long-term deal in place by the start of free agency on Wednesday.

Any free agent signing bonuses also would affect the final financial numbers.

Another factor is the performance of the team's money managers, although the stock market has rebounded and the Packers aren't expecting any surprises there.

Also last year, the Packers received $5 million before taxes in expansion fees from the Houston Texans. This year's final payment will be $3.3 million before taxes.

The Lambeau Field makeover, which allowed the Packers to jump from 20th to 10th in revenue ranking of the 32 NFL teams last year, was completed in August. The Packers expect to remain at or near 10th this year, Underwood said.

"It's not too early to declare the Lambeau redevelopment a success," Underwood said.

At its annual shareholders meeting last summer, the Packers said that the remodeling of Lambeau Field provided a financial windfall a year earlier than anticipated. Last year, the Packers reported total operating income of $153.1 million for the 2003 fiscal year, an increase of $21.1 million over the previous fiscal year.

As a public corporation, the Packers are the only team that releases its financial statements every year. Shareholders of the league's only publicly held team receive no dividends.

The team's corporate reserve account, which is used for signing bonuses and other football operations expenses, stood at $58 million last year, up from $35.6 million.

Ideally, the Packers want to have on hand enough money to fund football operations for a year. That figure, a moving target, is $112 million this year.

"It's always going to be somewhat of a stretch to get there but that's our goal," Underwood said.

Underwood said the Packers won't come close to that benchmark this year, "but we're going to make some progress toward that goal. We will be above $58 million, we can say that."

With a positive preliminary report, the Packers won't be raising ticket prices in 2004, Underwood said.

"The story is that the redeveloped Lambeau was a success," he said. "And it's all about football. The reason we did what we did is if we didn't do it, we were headed for financial oblivion."

In 1999, the team's corporate reserve account stood at about $31 million and was sliding. A year later, the Packers reported an operating loss of $419,000, the first time in recent memory the team had lost money.

Plans to add a stadium club restaurant to Lambeau then morphed into a full-fledged redevelopment that Brown County taxpayers narrowly approved in September 2000.

The goal was to keep up with other teams across the league that were building or planning new stadiums and leapfrogging the Packers in revenue ranking.

A redeveloped stadium with more seats, restaurants, retail stores and rental banquet rooms was the only way the Packers could augment their corporate reserve fund, which Underwood describes as "a financial safety net that replaces that one deep-pockets owner that we don't have."

"It's really the true financial worth of the franchise," he said. "That's all we have to fall back on" in the event of snags in league negotiations on television contracts or player accords in the coming years.

"It's like a family saving for a college tuition for their kids," added John Jones, the Packers' executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Lambeau Field is no longer used just 10 days a year but is a year-round revenue generator for the Packers because of its restaurants and bars, the Packer Hall of Fame, rentals of meeting rooms and atrium space and the league's top team-operated retail store.

The Packers Pro Shop had gross revenue of $11.1 million last fiscal year, and "we're doing better this year," Underwood said.

Jones said more than one-third of the events such as corporate meetings, bridal shows or wedding receptions being held at Lambeau Field are coming from outside Brown County.

"It's about preservation, community service and economic development," Jones said.

The stadium district is sponsoring a snowmobile event at Lambeau Field next month that is the first non-football sporting event held at the stadium that was built in 1957. The profits will go toward debt retirement, and the Packers will get concession revenue.

"We have a national treasure here," Jones said. "Our vision was to turn it into a stadium destination that anyone and everyone could come to every day."

With construction completed, the Packers are planning to return the "family night" scrimmage this summer to Lambeau Field. The popular event was scuttled the last two summers because of stadium reconstruction. The date will be determined when the NFL schedule is released in a month.

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