New Packers CEO faces some steep challenges

    In the end, Mark H. Murphy’s diverse background and strong people skills convinced the Green Bay Packers’ board of directors to go outside of their little inner circle and pick him to be the next president and chief executive officer of the team.

    Let’s be clear from the outset here. Murphy is no Bob Harlan, the man whose shoes he will try to fill. Harlan is one of the three most important people in Packers history, right up there, of course, with Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi (genuflect now if you must).

    Harlan flat out saved the Packer franchise by convincing Brown County to adopt a sales tax that enabled the team to expand and renovate Lambeau Field at a time when the team otherwise would not have been able to keep pace with the escalating revenue structures of the National Football League.

    The man generated additional revenues by selling worthless team stock certificates and Frozen Tundra. What’s that old saying about selling sand to camels?

    My sources tell me that the public will never truly understand how close Wisconsin came to actually losing the Packers had Harlan not possessed the people skills and the charisma to get that Brown County Lambeau referendum approved in 2000.

    Everyone knows about the NFL’s salary cap. Few know that the league also possesses a salary minimum. The Buffalo Bills are dangerously close to being unable to meet that minimum, and unless they do something to generate more revenues, they soon could be in danger of losing their franchise.

    Harlan saved the Packers once. His successor may need to do it again in the next decade. Renegades such as Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and some of the other new corporate team owners with deeper pockets are raising the ante by building $1 billion new stadiums. At some point, they are likely to turn to the owners of the smaller, less lucrative markets and say they’re tired of sharing their revenues.

    Today, two thirds of the NFL’s revenues are shared by the teams. Most of that shared revenue comes from network television broadcasting contracts.

    A problem for the Packers is that the remaining third of the revenue pie chart is growing, but not as quickly in Green Bay. Teams can generate revenue for themselves by selling local radio broadcasting rights, stadium naming rights, corporate suites and some merchandise.

    With a relatively tiny radio broadcasting market, that puts Green Bay behind its peers. But don’t look for Murphy to sell the naming rights to Lambeau. From a strategic standpoint, he’d do better to continue Harlan’s strategy of selling off the Lambeau brand in chunks, i.e. the Miller Brewing or Oneida Casino entrances to the stadium, rather than selling just one large corporate naming rights sponsorship that would discourage other sponsorships.

    Murphy’s first task will be to use his skills to convince other team owners to continue to support the shared revenue system. Given jackals such as Jones, whose coffers – and egos – continue to grow, that won’t be easy.

    Murphy’s second priority will be to convince the NFL Players Association to continue to agree to a salary cap system. That won’t be easy, either.

    Murphy will then need to be creative and find ways to generate new revenue streams to keep the Packers financially competitive. Developing the land around Lambeau may help him do that over the next decade.

    Murphy convinced the board that he has the diverse skill set and personality to meet all of those challenges.

    • He graduated from Colgate University, where he was captain of both the football and baseball teams, in 1977. He holds a master’s degree in business administration from American University and a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center.
    • Murphy was a safety for the Washington Redskins from 1977 through 1985. He played in two Super Bowls and named a Pro Bowl player in 1983. He worked on his MBA in the off-seasons while he was a player. When he completed his playing career, he served as assistant executive director of the National Football League Players Association.
    • After receiving his law degree, Murphy was a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice. He also served as a commentator for National Public Radio for 10 years, analyzing football games and commenting on other sports issues.
    • Murphy became Colgate’s athletic director in 1992. During that time, he significantly improved the school’s athletic facilities, including a new fitness center, an Astroturf stadium for field hockey and lacrosse, a cross-country trail, and improvements to numerous other athletic facilities.
    • He has served as Northwestern University’s athletic director since 2003, securing large donations from alumni, corporations and foundations.

    That’s quite a resume.

    The board voted once by secret ballot Monday. A simple majority was all that was needed among the 45-member board to approve Murphy’s appointment. Murphy gained that majority. The board then voted to declare the vote "unanimous." It did just that.

    In the meantime, what can a green-blooded Cheesehead do to help Murphy keep the Pack in Green Bay? Here’s one idea. If you need to buy a Christmas gift with a Packer logo on it this month, buy it from the Packers Pro Shop at Lambeau. The team keeps all of its own Pro Shop revenues.

    If you go to a retailer and buy the same Packer hat, shirt or jacket, the team shares that revenue with all the other teams – including the Cowboys, the Bears and the Vikings.

    And who wants that?

    Steve Jagler is executive editor of Small Business Times.

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