Packers Stock That Can’t Trade Is Banker’s Favorite Security

The Bertha Family
The Bertha family, from left: Alex, Maddie, Nicky, Leslie, and Nicholas, pose for a photo. Source: Nicholas Bertha via Bloomberg

Banker Nicholas Bertha says his favorite investment is one he made with his heart, not his head: a $200 share of the Green Bay Packers.

Bertha, a Wisconsin native who is managing director of Greenwich, Connecticut-based Fieldpoint Private Bank & Trust, bought the share of his home-state football team in 1997 and says he cherishes this exception to the Wall Street rule of thinking before buying. The Green Bay Packers Inc. stock certificate sits on the desk in Bertha’s office under a lamp that he doesn’t turn off. The stock will never appreciate in value and cannot be sold.

“This was a heart buy,” Bertha said in a telephone interview. “It’s by far my favorite security. It has great intangible value.”

The Packers will try to prevent the Pittsburgh Steelers from winning a National Football League-record seventh Super Bowl when they play on Feb. 6 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Packers, who have about 112,000 shareholders owning about 4.75 million shares, are three-point favorites with Las Vegas bookmakers to win their fourth Super Bowl and record 13th NFL championship.

Bertha, 60, grew up in Milwaukee, 110 miles (177 kilometers) south of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and remembers watching at home with his father when quarterback Bart Starr won the 1967 NFL championship game against the Dallas Cowboys with a 1-yard touchdown run.

In 1986, Bertha moved to New York, where he spent 20 years with Wall Street firms including Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette; Salomon Smith Barney; Robertson Stephens; and Credit Suisse Group AG.

Christmas Gifts

Bertha now lives in Manhattan and manages the trust business at Fieldpoint, which was founded in 2008. When he heard in November 1997 that the Packers were selling shares, he purchased five -- one each for him, his wife and his three children. They were given out as Christmas gifts.

“I call this ownership ‘Father’s Day Stock,’ meaning you’d be happy to buy a share for your dad, as a novelty with sentimental value,” David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California, said in a telephone interview.

The Packers have sold shares four times in their 91-year history. The first was in 1923, when 1,000 fans bought shares at $5 apiece. The last sale, where Bertha was a buyer, raised $24 million to renovate Lambeau Field. It is the only publicly held NFL team.

No Resale

The stock is illiquid and pays no dividend. No one is allowed to own more than 200,000 shares and resale is prohibited, except to the club at a fraction of the original value.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Green Bay’s population is 100,971, the smallest of any NFL city. Carter said the team’s ownership structure and the league’s revenue-sharing system are the main reasons a city as small as Green Bay has been able to retain a franchise in the NFL. In 1961 the NFL decided to pool television revenue and distribute it evenly among the teams.

“But for the NFL’s revenue-sharing model, teams would not be existing in Green Bay, which has a weak corporate base and very small media market,” said Carter, 46.

Bertha likes to think his purchase helped as well.

“The team will never move, because it’s owned by the guy who runs the barber shop in Green Bay, the guy who runs the bar in Milwaukee, and me and my family.” Bertha said. “We would never in a million years let the Packers leave Green Bay.”

College Atmosphere

Packers safety Charlie Peprah said playing in Green Bay reminds him of being back at the University of Alabama, because of the small-town feel and fan devotion.

“I don’t know how ownership has impacted us as players as far as management, but we’re in the Super Bowl so I guess it’s a positive,” Peprah, 27, said on Feb. 1.

Because of its ownership structure, Green Bay is the only NFL team to reveal annual financial results. Since public ownership is otherwise banned under NFL rules, it is the only peek into league finances.

“One of the biggest advantages the league has is the ability to keep the majority of their finances private,” Carter said. “That gives them an upper hand when it comes to collective bargaining and labor negotiations.”

Since 2007, operating profit at Green Bay has declined 71 percent, to $9.8 million from $34.2 million, according to the team’s yearly financial reports. In that same period, revenue increased 18 percent, to $258 million from $218 million. The current contract with players was signed in 2006.

Revenue Record

Net income for the 12 months through March rose 30 percent to $5.2 million, while operating profit more than halved to $9.8 million from $20.1 million on a $58 million increase in player costs to $161 million.

The collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and its players’ union runs out March 3. Packers Chief Executive Officer Mark Murphy said on a conference call in July that player costs have prompted owners in the U.S.’s most-watched television sport to seek a new labor deal.

Among the perks for Packers shareholders are invitations to the annual owners’ meeting in Green Bay, where they can vote for directors. Stock owners can also purchase exclusive merchandise, such as “I Own a Piece of the Pack” T-shirts.

“You know you’re not (Dallas Cowboys owner) Jerry Jones,” Bertha said. “But you are, in fact, a sliver of an owner and that’s enough for me.”

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