Where Is The Buzz? Packers Aren’t Generating The Same Interest As Past Years – Forbes
The Green Bay Packers are hoping rookie head coach Matt LaFleur can lead them back to the playoffs after a two-year drought. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
For 19 straight years, the Green Bay Packers have held a night practice inside Lambeau Field. The event includes a parachuting team that jumps into the stadium, a youth football game, and both fireworks and a laser show at the end of practice.
The Packers’ adoring fan base typically gobbles up tickets, and from 2012-’18 the event was sold out. Not this year, though, as attendance was down roughly 13.2%.
Green Bay also holds an annual shareholders meeting at Lambeau Field which drew 4,200 people in July. As recently as 2017, the meeting had an attendance of 7,000, and the largest crowd was 18,707 in 1998.
And while attendance numbers aren’t kept at training camp practices, long-term observers agree crowds on many days have been substantially smaller than most years.
As the 2019 season nears, one thing is clear: Packer Nation is taking a wait and see approach with this team. In fact, many of Green Bay’s faithful are telling these Packers to “prove it” before they go all-in.
“I can see how fans may say, ‘Wait and see.’ They want to see how we’re going to do,” Packers veteran defensive back Tramon Williams told Conley Media. “I can see that.
“We do have a new coach, new schemes and all of these different things, so you’d think people would be excited to see a lot of that. But we haven’t won enough lately either. The fans around here, though, they’re amazing fans. And I know they’ll show up.”
Few fan bases in sports are as loyal as Green Bay’s.
Five times in team history — and as recently as 2011 — fans have supported the team with a stock sale.
Green Bay has sold out 342 consecutive regular season games (not counting replacement games). And despite a recent expansion and renovation of Lambeau Field that increased attendance to roughly 81,000, the waiting list for season tickets is 137,000.
While the Packers have become remarkably corporate in recent years, they remain one of the more unique stories in sports.
But every fan base has a tipping point. And as the Packers’ on-field performance has declined in recent years, the paying customers have started losing patience.
The result has been a training camp that’s lacked the buzz of many other summers.
“I don’t know if that’s the case or not,” Packers nose tackle Kenny Clark told Conley Media. “But if it is, I get it.
“Most of the people in this building are used to winning and we haven’t done that the last couple years. Last time I’ve been to the playoffs was my rookie year (2016), so I’m ready to go again. We’ve got to get back to doing great things and then people will get fired up.”
From 2009-’16, Green Bay reached the playoffs eight straight seasons, won the 45th Super Bowl in 2010, and played in three NFC Championship games. The last two years have been rough, though, as the Packers are just 13-18-1 and posted consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1990-’91.
The Packers have the worst record in the NFC North in the last two years. And only nine teams in the NFL have been poorer than Green Bay over the last two seasons.
Mike McCarthy was fired with four games remaining in the 2018 season. And unproven, 39-year-old Matt LaFleur was hired in January in a move that created far more skepticism than elation from the fan base.
“It’s been two long years here in Green Bay, we are ready to get back winning,” Packers president Mark Murphy said the say he announced the LaFleur hiring. “I think we’re all aligned and we’re ready to get started and get back to winning championships.”
Green Bay’s faithful would like to buy into that. For now, though, any optimism seems guarded.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is just 24-24-1 in his last 49 starts and hasn’t been the same player that won MVP honors in 2011 and 2014. Rodgers, who turns 36 this season, has also been injury prone in recent years and missed half the season in both 2013 and 2017 with broken collarbones.
Green Bay ranked 14th in points per game last year (23.5) and 12th in yards per game (369.1). The Packers were just 23rd in third down conversions (36.8%) and 13th in yards per play (5.8).
Now, with a rookie head coach trying to get everyone up to speed, it could take the Packers some time to begin clicking in LaFleur’s offense.
“It’s going to be a work in progress,” Rodgers said. “I feel good about the offense. I feel good about the things we can do in it. I think it has a lot of room to grow and it’s going to be fun.”
Green Bay went on a free agent spending spree in March to help fix its defense, signing outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith (four-years, $66 million) and Preston Smith (four years, $52 million), along with safety Adrian Amos (four years, $37 million). The Packers also used first round draft picks on outside linebacker Rashan Gary and safety Darnell Savage.
Green Bay hasn’t had a top-10 defense since 2010, but is hoping to change that in 2019.
“We love guys who know what they’re doing so they can play fast, and go out and execute, do our jobs,” Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said. “We’ve always taken on the mindset that we’re not going to depend on the other side of the ball to be successful. Hopefully, we can take some huge strides forward.”
The fan base would like nothing better than to see the Packers make major strides in 2019. And while there will always be a certain excitement level in the NFL’s smallest city, that enthusiasm is somewhat tempered right now.
“That will all change if we start 4-0, or something like that,” Clark said. “Really, it’s up to us.
“No one’s had any fun the last two years. Losing (stinks). It’s up to us to go out there, play better football and get people excited about us again.”
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