The Green Bay Packers have sold out every home game since the Fourteenth Century, right? Nothing to worry about when it comes to attracting fans and providing them a good experience, right?
Not right if you’re Mark Murphy. In an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Eckstein Hall on Tuesday, the president and CEO of the Packers described in detail the team’s efforts to improve the “fan experience” and to make Lambeau Field a year-round destination for events and experiences that extend well beyond game days.
Murphy told a capacity audience in the Appellate Courtroom that, as much as Lambeau is revered as a football shrine, until the large-scale renovation of the stadium in 2003, it was used for 10 games or so each year and not for much else. He called the decision to add a large atrium which includes the Packer Pro Shop and areas for eating and drinking “a brilliant decision” that opened the way to making Lambeau a year-round facility. “It completely changed the organization and particularly Lambeau Field,” Murphy said.
Murphy joined the team in 2008 and is overseeing several hundred million dollars in continuing expansion and improvements to Lambeau, including the addition of 7,000 seats, a new sound system, two HD video boards, and a large gate at the north end of the stadium.
More improvements are planned as part of making the Lambeau area – and Green Bay as a whole – more of an attraction. More events and entertainment opportunities are being considered, Murphy said. He said a Cabela’s store located near the stadium has been a big success and more partnerships of that kind are likely.
As for game day, “in some ways, we’re our own worst enemy,” Murphy said of the National Football League. Its television contracts are very lucrative, but people can stay at home and get great views of a game while enjoying a lot of comfort. “The better that experience you have at home,” the more you are inclined not to attend a game in person, he said, and the more the Packers are determined to make the experience of being at the game something you can’t get at home. (Coincidentally, the Federal Communications Commission ruled Tuesday against the NFL rule that allows TV blackouts in local markets if a game is not a sellout.)
Murphy said Lambeau is now the second largest stadium in the NFL. And it is the only one that primarily uses bench seats for fans. Some people suggest that the benches should be replaced with seats with backs, but Murphy said that would reduce the stadium’s capacity by about 10,000 seats. Besides, he said, the benches “are really part of what makes Lambeau so special.” On the other hand, the new south end zone seats all have backs and cup-holders.
Murphy said the Packers “are in very sound shape financially,” including a corporate reserve fund of almost $280 million.
Asked about problems facing the NFL, including domestic violence cases involving players and major concerns about concussions among players, Murphy said, “I don’t think I’ve seen the NFL go through a more difficult time. It really is a crisis situation. I do think the credibility of the league has been challenged. I think we’ve taken a real hit in terms of credibility, respect. I don’t think it’s fatal but I think people have lost a little respect for the league.”
He said the outcome of an investigation headed by former FBI Director Robert Mueller of the league’s handling of the case where Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice knocked out his then-girlfriend will be “really key” to what happens ahead. He said he understands criticism of Commissioner Roger Goodell, but he praised good things Goodell has done. He said the Packers have a “zero-tolerance” policy for domestic violence by players and the team works to make sure players know the policy and the consequences of violating it.
Murphy said the concussion issue is a serious one not only for the NFL but for all levels of football. He said participation in youth football has declined nationally in recent years. He said almost every rule change made by the NFL in recent years was aimed at making the game safer for players, but the future of the game could be affected by the issue.
What about “Redskins,” the much criticized name of the team for which Murphy was a star? Murphy said he is very sensitive to the issue, including the strong opposition to the name from leaders of the Oneida Nation, which has major involvement with the Packers. But he said the team name is not at the top of the league agenda now, and he suspected nothing would change until opposition to the name costs the team or the league money.
Murphy was an All-Pro safety for Washington during a playing career from 1977 to 1984. He later received a law degree from Georgetown. His career includes time as a lawyer for the US Justice Department and assistant executive director of the NFL Players Association. He was athletic director of his alma mater, Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y, and of Northwestern University before joining the Packers.
Addressing law students in the audience, Murphy said even though he had not practiced law directly for much of his career, he highly valued his law degree. He said law school provides “a tremendous education, a tremendous graduate degree” that can be valuable in many pursuits, not only in conventional work as a lawyer.
The video of the one-hour conversation may be viewed by clicking here.