Packers Stock: Not All Returns Are Financial

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The all-caps disclaimer at the bottom of the offering page is impossible to miss:

COMMON STOCK DOES NOT CONSTITUTE AN INVESTMENT IN "STOCK" IN THE COMMON SENSE OF THE TERM.

PURCHASERS SHOULD NOT PURCHASE COMMON STOCK WITH THE PURPOSE OF MAKING A PROFIT.

And so it goes for Cheeseheads across the country who, beginning yesterday morning, decided to become Green Bay Packers shareholders, joining the 112,205 fans who already lay claim to that title. That warning greeted them at the site the Packers set up for purchasing shares in the team -- the first time in 14 years fans have had the chance to do so.

The timing couldn't have been better. The defending Super Bowl champions are 12-0, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers is on pace to shatter a fistful of records. Packer fever is running high. Even better, fans who order by Dec. 16 (four days earlier if mailing in a check) can get their stock certificates in time to slide them under the Christmas tree.

Initial sales have been brisk. Of the 250,000 shares the team released for sale at $250 a pop, 28,000 were sold in the first two hours alone.

But there's that one glaring caveat, sticking out like a Chicago Bears jersey on Lombardi Avenue: Don't buy shares with the purpose of making a profit.

I can hear you already: "What investor in his right mind would sign up for that? Putting your money in Packers stock is a sucker's bet." Online discussions have been rife with observations like that leading up to the stock sale, with incredulous onlookers wondering why potential buyers are willing to let themselves get hoodwinked.

But nobody's being duped. Fans know what they're signing up for. The Packers organization has been very clear that these stocks don't pay dividends, don't appreciate, can't be sold except back to the Packers for a nominal amount, and can be transferred only to family members.

So why bother? To a large extent, buying a share is about pride of ownership. The Packers are the only publicly held sports franchise in North America. Even if ownership confers only the right to attend the annual meetings, vote for the board of directors, and get in on some exclusive shareholder swag (including some snazzy replica Super Bowl XLV rings), it still gives shareholders more of a direct stake in their team than if they owned, say, shares of Comcast (NAS: CMCSA) to enjoy an indirect stake in hockey's Philadelphia Flyers or basketball's 76ers. Same goes for Madison Square Garden (NAS: MSG) and the Knicks and Rangers, Liberty Capital (NAS: LMCA) and the Atlanta Braves, and Rogers Communications (NYS: RCI) and the Toronto Blue Jays.

There's also the Packers' unique story that has endeared them to fans everywhere. Once little more than a town team sponsored by a local meatpacking company, the Packers are a throwback to the pioneering days of small-town Midwestern football. Unlike their contemporaries from back then, the Packers managed to survive because the fans came to their rescue and bought shares in the team. Four times since that initial stock offering in 1923, fans have pitched in to do their part, in the absence of a single deep-pocketed owner. This time around, as with the 1997 stock sale, proceeds will go toward stadium renovations. The fans, in turn, have been rewarded with great successes on the field: Tiny little Green Bay, Wis., holds claim to 13 NFL titles -- more than any other team in the league.

NFL rules now require teams to be run for profit and limit the number of owners any franchise can have. The nonprofit Packers' ownership structure was grandfathered in. And that makes the Packers' story even more special: Nothing like this will probably ever happen again. In Green Bay, the owner doesn't sit looking down over his plaything from on high in a heated box. The owners are sitting out in the blistering cold of Lambeau Field, downing beer and brats and wearing large chunks of foam cheese on their heads. Anyone who wants to join in on the fun has until Feb. 29 to buy a share -- unless the current allotment of shares runs out by then.

Just know what you're getting into. If I want to bolster my financial investments, I'll add money to the Permanent Portfolio fund in my IRA. An investment in the Packers isn't a financial one. It's about saying you own a storied piece of American sports culture. And it's the best investment that'll never earn you a dime.

At the time this article was published Fool contributor and editor Adrian Rush has been a Packers shareholder since 1997, and he bought another share this week for his baby daughter, who clearly has a crush on Aaron Rodgers. He owns shares of Permanent Portfolio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Madison Square Garden. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Rogers Communications. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is on the waiting list for Packers season tickets.

Copyright © 1995 - 2011 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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