Community building the Packers way

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Unless you've been living under a rock, or don't really care about U.S. sports, you probably know that the Green Bay Packers are the champs of Super Bowl XLV. What you may not know is that despite hailing from a town of a little over 100,000 people, the Green Bay Packers are one of the most popular teams in the National Football League. So popular, in fact, that the current waiting list for season tickets informs new registrants that they might receive their tickets by 2074.

The Green Bay Packers have remained a successful franchise for multiple reasons,

including excellent coaching and several high caliber quarterbacks. Yet it's pretty easy to argue that the reason underlying much of the team's success comes from the stability provided by management and ownership style.

The Packers are the only team in the league that is owned by the community at large. Instead of one small controlling group, or one individual owner, Green Bay and the surrounding community have bought shares in the organization. Every member receives voting rights and no member can have a controlling interest. Furthermore, they operate under non-profit status while releasing their balance sheet to the greater public. This has kept the fan base from feeling shut out--at a time when many teams have gone by the wayside or moved across country at the whim of spiteful owners.

The behavior of the Packers organization echoes many of the essential values that most open source projects adhere to. We know that these values can do good things when implemented properly. Considering that Green Bay has survived longer than most NFL clubs, and has won more championships than any team in professional American Football history, it's pretty easy to see how the Packers are a shining example of what a community can do when it gets behind something they believe in.

So congratulations to the Packers and their community of fans! The Packers could not have had such success this year without the community underneath promoting and supporting the efforts.

What are your thoughts on the Packers' success and use of the community to build something great? Heard any good stories or soundbites about the hometown Packer pride? Sound off in the comments below! 

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Travis Kepley is a Senior Instructor at Red Hat where he helps employees, partners and customers understand how Open Source Software can create a better IT and business infrastructure. Travis started at Red Hat in January of 2008 as a Technical Support Engineer before becoming a Solutions Architect prior to moving to his current role.


It's hard to tell which model works best for a sports team.

The most successful soccer team of all times, Real Madrid, and presumably the strongest one in recent years, FC Barcelona, are clubs that belong to their members, and they are open to anyone who seeks to join. So that's even more community-oriented than the Packers approach, which is more like a broadbased group of partly public and partly private shareholders. In the clubs I mentioned, members actually get to vote for their president, and each member has one vote. I guess it's not equally democratic in the Packers' case.

The problem with democracy in sports teams is that there's a huge impact of chance on every game and every season, so presidents who actually do a good job may be ousted. In Spain, what has happened is that successful presidents were replaced just because a candidate promised to sign up a top-notch player (in some cases those promises weren't even delivered upon).

By contrast, a club belonging to one shareholder is in the position to pursue a long-term vision. That structure provides a level of institutional stability that you just can't achieve with regular elections.

The commercially most successful and presumably strongest European soccer league is actually the (English) Football Association Premier League. All of its major teams belong to individual or small groups of shareholders. Some, such as Manchester United, were temporarily traded on the stock market.

In Germany there's a rule that a team must either belong to a club or to a company, and if it's a company, then a majority (50% plus one vote) of the voting rights must belong to a traditional club run by its members. In my opinion that rule contravenes European free movement (of investment capital, in this case) rules, but no one has challenged it in court. Although Germany has the largest national economy in Europe and a population that is very enthusiastic about soccer, German club teams rarely win European titles.

Thanks a ton for the European view of this. Love hearing about what works and doesn't when building and maintaining communities that govern projects, products or, in this case, teams.

And the Packers do vote for their board, who then in turn assigns representatives for different positions within the org. In fact, many times over the years the Packers would send a coach to league meetings where the rest of the league is sending owners. From Wikipedia:

"The team's elected president represents the Packers in NFL owners meetings, unless someone else is designated. During his time as coach, Vince Lombardi generally represented the team at league meetings in his role as general manager, except at owners-only meetings, where the team was represented by president Dominic Olejniczak."

So it sounds pretty similar to what you're describing. Again, thanks very much for the information, I love hearing about the way these sorts of things work in other parts of the world!

I'm really excited that we're able to talk about open source / community building in sports. There have to be more examples out there.

You mention that "Every member receives voting rights and no member can have a controlling interest." It would be of interest to learn more about how decisions are taken. Community ownership brings about a much richer depth of knowledge into decision appraisals and I'd be interested in understanding how this is evident in the Packers.

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