John Jones: Lambeau Renovation Already Paying Off for Green and Gold

The Green Bay Packers embarked on an ambitious $295 million renovation of historic Lambeau Field in 2000, hoping to solidify the financial status of the National Football League team. With the project near completion — on time and within budget — the team is already reaping benefits. The Packers’ operating profit jumped to $15.5 million for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2003, up from $3.8 million in its previous fiscal year.

But the Pack also faces many new business challenges as the team goes from having 60,000 fans in their stadium 12 times a year to thousands of visitors 365 days a year. There are new year-round restaurants to manage, meeting and conference rooms and an atrium to rent out — key parts of the team’s projected increase in revenue. Payroll has been beefed up 46 percent from 91 to 133 people. New departments have been created to handle new business.

Mark Kass, a WisBusiness correspondent, sat down recently with John Jones, Packers’ executive vice president and chief operating officer, to discuss how the project has already benefited the team and how it equates to the team’s future.

Kass: How has the renovation project already paid off for the Green Bay Packers?

Jones: We got some very exciting news this spring when we jumped to 10th in revenue in the National Football League from 20th in 2001. That told us that our plan for this building was working and to our benefit. It started working about a year ahead of what our schedule was for revenue growth. This will provide us with the financial base to protect the franchise, which is the goal of this project. These funds will help us field a competitive football team for years to come.

Kass: What factors allowed you to increase your revenue earlier than expected?

Jones: Because of the pace of the construction, we were able to add three main gate sponsors a year earlier than expected – Miller Brewing, Oneida Nation Tribe and Verizon Wireless. We were also able to add about 3,000 more seats last season, including 1,000 new club seats, which brought in more revenue. And finally, our pro shop has become the number one retail store in the NFL. We went from revenue of $6.8 million in 2001 to $11.1 million in 2002. We have several months of sales of $1 million or more. The store has become a focal point for organization and part of our outreach to the community.

Kass: What have been the key factors in the ability to get the renovation project done on time and on budget?

Jones: We’ve had a lot of things go right on this project. We’ve learned to be flexible and look for opportunities to accelerate the project in certain areas. We’ve been fortunate to have three mild winters, which has allowed us to get ahead of schedule. The down economy actually helped us in that when we bought the steel for the project, we got a much better price that we had planned on. And we’ve been practical. We know we can’t do everything. We’ve had to make choices. If we have a list of five things the construction crews would like to do, most times we do the top two or three, the ones that will have the most positive impact on the project. We are very aware that any cost overruns on this project will be paid for by the Packers and we are working very hard to avoid that.”

Kass: What kind of response have you gotten from the community in terms of holding events at the renovated stadium?

Jones: The response has been great. We have over 300 events booked at Lambeau Field through 2007, including more than three dozen weddings. We have everything from corporate meetings to charitable events to weddings to baptisms. We also have announced plans to open Curly’s Pub, which will have rooms to rent that I believe will be popular with everyone from bowling leagues to neighborhood associations for meetings. We can also put 500 people on the floor of the atrium for an event. We believe this place is going to be very popular for events throughout the year.

Kass: How will the renovated stadium change the business operation of the Packers as now instead of having a stadium open 12 days a year, it will be open to the public 365 days a year?

Jones: It will mean a significant change for the business side of our team. Our management team has spent a lot of time over the past few years planning how we are going to manage this facility. We’ve added several new departments – premium guest services to handle the luxury suites and club suites; an atrium business development group to handle the schedule and running of special events, the Hall of Fame and oversee the operation of Curly’s Pub and a facilities group, which will handle all the added maintenance responsibilities for the stadium. We are going to take a Walt Disney Co. approach to this building. We want a spotless campus that families will enjoy coming to. I want a mom to feel comfortable sending her children into our bathrooms because they are clean.

Kass: Have you modeled your operation after any other facility that is similar across the NFL or in any other sport?

Jones: This is really a first of its kind for the NFL. We are moving into uncharted territory. This is certainly a new direction for the team because we will now have a building that will be used 12 months a year. That is a big change and something we are going to have to get used to. But it is also a great opportunity for the Packers and our many fans throughout the country. People who have never been to Lambeau Field can now come here at any time of the year and come into the atrium and have something to eat. Or they can come during training camp and have a wonderful experience. Or they can hold their wedding here. We are going to be creating a lot of history for people that I will believe will further enhance the reputation of the Green Bay Packers.

The WisBusiness Interview is Copyright (c) 2003 WisBusiness Publishing.