"People had already taken ownership of the Pabst brand emotionally," said Brian Flatow, president of The Ad Store. "We saw an opportunity for ourselves and people like us to take ownership in more than just a metaphorical way, but to actually own the company."
For evidence that such a plan could actually work, a potential donor wouldn't have to leave Pabst's home state of Wisconsin. In 1923, with the Green Bay Packers $2,500 in debt, Curly Lambeau, Andrew B. Turnbull, attorney Gerald Francis Clifford, Dr. W. Webber Kelly and Leland H. Joannes incorporated the team as a non-profit company and sold 1,000 shares at $5 apiece. Shares were sold three more times -- from a bid to bail the team out of receivership in 1935 to a push for money to renovate Lambeau Field in 1997 and 1998 -- until the team amassed 112,120 shareholders with 4,750,937 shares.
The Packers have an executive board and chief executive much like other public companies, with football operations left to team management as with any other franchise. However, unlike most companies and franchises, stakeholders are capped at 200,000 shares to ensure no one has control of the team and the shareholders have a direct voice in capital projects like stadium investment. Each July, tens of thousands of shareholders meet at Lambeau Field, with some wearing suits beneath baseball caps reading "NFL Owner." Though NFL ownership rules changed in the 1980s to limit teams to a maximum of 32 owners, the Packers' model was exempted through a grandfather clause and has helped keep Green Bay -- the NFL's smallest market in a city with little more than 100,000 residents -- a viable and thriving franchise.
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