Dear Roker Report,
I just read the article on the possibility of Sunderland AFC being a fan owned club using the “Green Bay Model” and it was a very good read. I must say that it is certainly possible, plausible and something that should be seriously considered.
Being a native Wisconsinite, there’s not much to be proud about concerning my home state. Most of the stuff we can be proud of is getting to be 100+ years old or close to it (e.g. John Muir, Robert LaFollette, Frank Lloyd Wright and Zona Gale) and the state’s more recent claims to fame in the last 50 years is very much macabre (just google Bundy, Gein or Dahmer). But if there’s one thing that most of us, I’d say around 90% of the state’s population (just guessing, not accurate in the slightest), take pride in is the Green Bay Packers. Why is that? It’s simple: it is our team in every fashion conceivable.
Nearly every year for almost 20 years now NFL teams have been bought, sold and moved. Hell, there was even talk at one point in the early aughts of the NFL even forcing teams to fold! One team that never came up was the Packers. Can’t buy and/or move a team that is owned by the public. This status that the Packers have of being a publicly owned non-profit has created not only a huge amount of civic pride throughout the state, it has created a stability off the field, as the article mentioned, that is not only nearly unrivaled in American sports, but probably in the world. This stability off the field (financially and administratively) has bled into the product on the field as well.
Starting in 1920, when the team went fully professional (the team was founded in 1919 and had amateur status) and official records started being kept, there have been 14 head coaches/managers with 2 interim managers for a total of 16. Crazy isn’t it? What about the on field success? It hasn’t been much, only been crowned champions of the NFL 13 times (twice winning 3 in a row and includes 4 Super Bowl victories), numerous divisional and conference championships and responsible for putting 30 players (25 inducted as Packers, second only to the Chicago Bears) into the American Pro Football Hall of Fame.
What happens to the city of Sunderland? Well, the city of Green Bay, WI, is kinda similar to that of Sunderland and can provide some hints.
Green Bay is one of the oldest incorporated towns in the state (I believe it was incorporated sometime in the 1850s, with only a few towns being older), with settlement being established in the 1600s as a fur trading post and port. Over the course of the next couple centuries it became a hub for the lumber industry and agriculture. Gradually, the railroads took over and industry became central to the city’s economy, but that only lasted so long, especially as industry had declined over the last 50 years or so - if this sounds similar to the problems Sunderland has had since the ship building industry went into decline since the 70s, you aren’t mistaken. The one thing the city has had is the Packers. With the team always being somewhat successful and very stable, it has allowed the city to capitalize on the team’s worldwide fan base by using the team to bring in tourists to the city with team-based attractions such as stadium tours and/or a hall of fame, and even popular traditions such as practices/training sessions open to the public or, in the case with the Packers, allowing kids to bring their bikes to the stadium and the players riding them to the training ground.
There’s loads of positives to a fan takeover/fan ownership and not much, if any, downside. Given the current situation with the club’s ownership and financial troubles, the time is ripe, maybe even now, to seriously consider uniting Sunderland AFC supporters all over the world in a bid to raise funds to acquire the team and not only ensure the club’s survival but that it is run correctly.
Point is, supporters of Sunderland AFC no matter where in the world they live, should give fan ownership serious thought. The benefits far outweigh the drawbacks (if there are any), stability would eventually return and along with it stability and success on the field with added bonus of quite literally being able to say “That’s my club!” with pride instead of having to be sheepish about it.
P.S. Here’s a link to the Packer’s official website if any souls feel like getting a close look at the team: https://www.packers.com/ and also, for the writers at Roker Report, you should get in touch with the fellows at Acme Packing Company. That’s the SB Nation blog dedicated to following and reporting on the Green Bay Packers. They do a stand up job and I would venture would be more than willing to help out with any stories or more info on the team if needed. Thanks!
Ed’s Note [Tom]: Hi Azlynn, hope you’re safe and well. Thanks for this fantastic letter, I thoroughly enjoyed the read - especially after our great guest article from Jonathan Kiersky last week. One of my fellow editors, Rich, is also a big proponent of a fan-ownership approach, and I have to admit that I’m also thoroughly intrigued by the prospect. With the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a chance that fans might well be pressed into action. Thankfully, our international readers have pointed us in the direction of some great examples - including the Green Bay Packers - of clubs around the globe who’ve made a success out of fan ownership. Thanks again for your letter and stay safe.