Green Bay Packers stock sales brisk at start
(Reuters) - Fans of the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers snapped up shares in the opening minutes of the team's public stock sale on Tuesday, slowing the website under demand for an ownership that conveys mainly bragging rights.
The offering, the fifth in the 92-year history of the team, gives fans the opportunity to own a piece of the defending champions, undefeated through 12 games this season, but is unlike traditional U.S. common stocks.
The Packers launched the offering to reduce the borrowing needed for a $143 million expansion of the team's iconic Lambeau Field in Green Bay, the smallest U.S. city to have a major professional sports franchise.
"It's more of a fun, prestige thing," said James Szymanski, a lifelong Packers fan who lives in Milwaukee and bought a single $250 share on Tuesday after 45 minutes online.
Szymanski said the share provided no value, but bought it to support "my home team" and would have done so even if the Packers were not winning. He planned to frame his stock certificate and hang it in his office or home.
The Packers are the only publicly-owned major professional sports team in the United States, an ownership structure that helps keep the National Football League team tethered to Green Bay, a city of about 104,000 in northeast Wisconsin.
Before the offering, the team had about 112,000 stockholders with a total of 4.75 million shares. The majority of owners live in Wisconsin, though there are stockholders in all 50 U.S. states.
Ownership in the Packers confers voting rights, but the shares offer no dividend, no chance for appreciation, practically no transfer rights and not even a shot at a highly prized season ticket.
"First and foremost, it is a way for them to support and help the team, and it does give them significant bragging rights," Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy told reporters. "They can say they are owners of a Super Bowl champion team."
250,000 SHARES ON OFFER
The team is offering 250,000 shares. Murphy said 1,600 shares were sold in the first 11 minutes of the offering, but the team did not plan frequent updates on numbers.
The team sold about 120,000 shares in its last offering in 1997 and it could expand the offering if there is demand.
Shares can also be purchased as gifts. Stock certificates should be received by Christmas if they are bought by December 12, the team said. Brianne May said her parents did just that.
"When they told me they purchased it for me I actually had tears," said May, whose parents live in Grafton, Wisconsin. "I was so excited to be a part of team history."
May, 33, said she planned to frame the stock certificate and place it on a wall in her Melbourne, Florida, home office.
Despite the small market, the Packers are among the top 10 of the NFL's 32 franchises in terms of revenue. If all the shares offered were sold the team would raise $62.5 million toward an expansion of Lambeau Field announced last summer.
The team has lined up debt financing for the expansion, but the stock offering, seat use fees and other sources of funding were expected to reduce borrowing.
The team has penciled in "very conservative" net proceeds of $22 million from the stock sale and could raise $13.4 million from user fees on the 6,700 seats being added to the stadium if it charges a fee similar to the last expansion.
The stock offering continues through February 29, a leap day. Packers players are known for jumping into the crowd at the back of the end zone after scoring touchdowns in what has come to be known as the Lambeau leap.
The team bylaws and NFL rules severely restrict transfers of the stock. The shares may only be transferred to heirs, relatives, or back to the team at a severe discount.
Stockholders may buy special Green Bay apparel, including Super Bowl champion offerings, and attend the annual meeting held at Lambeau Field on the eve of training camp each year.
Team ownership does not grant season-ticket holder privileges, but the expansion to nearly 80,000 seats was expected to make a dent in the waiting list, Murphy said.
The team has been sold out on season tickets since 1960 through championships or losing seasons, and a waiting list now stands at 93,000 names. Fans who received the right to buy tickets this year had been on the waiting list for 35 years.
The team offers no estimate of how long it will take for people joining the list today to reach the top. About 70 to 90 people reach season ticket status in a typical year.
(Editing by Greg McCune and Cynthia Johnston)
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