I may end up like Salman Rushdie after the people of Illinois and Wisconsin read this.
Companies will ban me. My family will quit speaking to me.
My hometown city – the Greater Chicagoland Area – may have me killed.
But, after much study, this is what I believe:
The Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers should give up their rivalry. Everyone in Illinois and Wisconsin should become fans of both teams.
That includes you.
If you’re not from Illinois or Wisconsin you probably won’t understand.
So stop reading.
If you are from WIIL , I know you hate me now.
So read on:
The Wisconsin/Illinois relationship is like North and South Korea with some waterskiing, beer and bratwurst thrown in. We live with each other because we are forced. Otherwise, we’d build a wall right on the border and guard it with large-diameter guns, allowing only a chosen few to come and go. Probably Johnsonville brat trucks and maybe some Sargento cheese deliveries (if you didn’t know this, Pabst Blue Ribbon is now brewed in Illinois and will be moving to Los Angeles).
In the Midwest you grow up on football. It’s not a decision, it’s a rite of passage – whether you like it or not.
You grow up learning that your team is the best.
Midwesterners live and die by these allegiances.
I haven’t lived in Chicago for 11 years but if you ask me, the Chicago teams are still my teams. You know what I mean if you live there.
But I’ve learned some things. I was very close to football growing up.
And my belief in the Green Bay Packers started when I was introduced to them in 4th grade.
I had to write a book report. I wanted to be cool. I chose a football book: “Bart Starr: A Biography” by Gene Schoor. At the time I knew nothing about the Packers except everyone in Illinois hated them. I’m sure the book was planted in my Northern Illinois school as propaganda.
It was a legendary tale of Coach Lombardi and QB Bart Starr. But I was struck by the humanity. The story of Starr’s brother’s death from tetanus and how it affected him. The story of his rise from an unremarkable college football career to a leading NFL QB, MVP and ultimately head coach of the Packers career. The story of this tiny nowhere town and it’s host to an NFL powerhouse team. It explained how the Packers rose into a hugely successful NFL competitor and why the people of Wisconsin care so much. It’s a legacy and I get it. I dig the story.
In Chicago more recently This story about Derrick Rose got it right and explains the allegiance and the feeling behind Chicago sports teams. And the humanity of its players. It’s truth in the highest conviction.
So I did the report and I realized those huge guys on TV, and Bart Starr in the book, were people. Players had stories unfolding on the gridiron when the game was passion and everything off the field was kept private.
The Packers-Bears rivalry is one of the longest in the league, trumped only by the Packers-Lions rivalry in length (and only by a few games), but trumped by none other in belief and fan dedication. Until now, passion pulled fans in polarized opposite directions.
It started in 1921 when the Packers Joined the NFL and the Bears moved from Decatur (where they were known as the Staleys), playing each other in their first game (Bears won 20-0). The rivalry began then and grew more furious.
In 1924 a fight broke out at a game. Punches were thrown between Frank Henry and Tillie Voss. People were ejected. The first players ever ejected from an NFL game. Fans have diverged ever since.
But the Packers are the only team in the league never to have left the city where they started (not counting expansion teams), and they never will. The GBP are owned by the public and they’re profitable. They’re stuck in Green Bay until the end of time.
This is the first reason for my love of the Green Bay Packers: They’ve always been in Green Bay, and they always will be in Green Bay.
And this is the first reason why you should start warming up to them if you haven’t already. The Bears, though I love them, are just another team. They could leave Chicago tomorrow if they had a buyer.
Imagine that: THE BEARS COULD LEAVE CHICAGO.
And this is the first reason why I’ve expanded my allegiance to both teams. I am prepared for imminent departure. But why would the Bears leave?
The Veeck Convention.
The Veeck convention is an IRS rule allowing team owners to depreciate the purchase price of a sports team over 15 years.
Basically, the Veeck convention creates a tax shelter and a loss where there really is none. Many, if not most teams, make cash but can be shown to lose money under the Veeck Convention.
The Veeck convention is a primary reason for ownership turnover and the elephant noone talks about when sports teams change hands (oh, you thought it coincidence Jay-Z is selling his stake in the NJ Nets? It’s the end of his tax shelter: $1M/8 years = $125K/year in tax writeoffs).
It’s more complex than that, but we’re talking Packers-Bears here not franchise accounting and finance…the point is ownership turnover is more likely than people realize for reasons that have nothing to do with history or tradition.
The Veeck Convention is an incentive for an owner to sell and a new owner to buy, though the transfer might include a move to a new city. Could it happen in Chicago? Yes (but please don’t, Virginia).
Now that I have your attention, there’s more.
The Packers play in Lambeau Field in Green Bay, WI, population 105,809 as of 2011. Not only are they the only franchise to remain in the original town, Green Bay is the smallest town of any NFL franchise.****
The average city population of an NFL franchise is 1.3M (not including surrounding suburban populations), making Green Bay 1/13th of the average NFL franchise city size, yet they are ranked 12th in franchise value of $1.2B (Almost exactly at the average NFL franchise value)**, just below 8th ranked Chicago at $1.3B.
Comparatively, the population:value ratio between the Packers and Bears is 111.81 vs 4.63. The Packers are 24.17 times more valuable per person than the Chicago Bears.
You let me down, Chicago!
Adding insult to injury, Lambeau holds 80,750, Soldier 61,500.
But Lambeau has sold out every game since 1960 with a backlog of over 81,000 names on the waiting list. The Bears have sold out every game since 1984, but the stadium capacity:population ratio is only 2.27% for Chicago. It’s 76.32% for Lambeau.
Holy Cow, Harey Carey.
I call this my fanatic rating.**** The Packers draw from a smaller population but have a higher overall % attendance rate, trumping the Bears by 33.62X!
And you know what? I get it. I’ve been to a few games in Lambeau Field. Lambeau is in a neighborhood, easy to access if you live nearby and has the energy of a college game. Even the cheerleaders are collegiate.
Soldier, though iconic, is hard to get to with a car, expensive and has a commercial feeling.
Then again. Lambeau is hard to attend if you live far, it’s frigid in the winter and you usually have to drive a hundred miles or more to get home when the game is over. No Capital Grill for cocktails after a Packers game – you’ve got a long drive ahead.
But the Packers are reliable.
The Packers are a great story you can invest your hard earned money in because they’ll never leave you in the middle of the night (Colts, Bears?).
But Green Bay doesn’t have The Cubs, White Sox and Blackhawks. They aren’t in one of the world’s best cities. They don’t have public transportation, they’re ranked 14/32 in team loyalty vs Chicago’s 7th place rank* and they don’t have the Winning Record (Chicago leads Green Bay 92-88-6) in the rivalry.
Take that Wisconsin.
I love the Bears and have memories of watching every game with my family eating popcorn in front of the fireplace while the wind whistled outside. But now I’ll always love the Packers, too.
The Packers may not be the coolest team, or have the coolest jerseys. But they have the best story in the league. It only takes one game in Lambeau Field to understand what I mean. You can’t help but feel the energy.
If you don’t feel the ghosts, the history, the passion and the meaning of real football in Lambeau Field, you’re not a real football fan.
Then again, maybe I’m wrong.
Maybe it’s true the Packers, despite all of that, are still a terrible team with ugly uniforms and the second worst name in the NFL.
But I don’t think it is and I don’t think I am.
Because numbers don’t lie.
So there’s room in your heart for both teams. I know there is.
Join me on the Dark Side and share the love.
End the rivalry.
*Emory University 2013
***Under the 2004 tax revisions allow 100% of the purchase price to be depreciated over 15 years. If a team was purchased for $1.165B, annual depreciation allowance is $77.7M which would save approximately $27.2M at a 35% annual tax rate or $408 million dollars over 15 years.
****Link to dropbox download of the spreadsheet I built for the information in this article: https://www.dropbox.com/l/0OcctgtTHayvClPWCaUSU9 (contains all franchise value and key performance indicators by team, calculations are solely my own)
(thanks to Gary Treangen for comments on improving this post)