GREEN BAY – The dominant storyline for much of the week leading into this afternoon's NFC Wildcard game between the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers wasn't centered around X's or O's – it was the fact that the famed fans of the green and gold weren't going to sell out Lambeau Field.
Of course, the game did sell out (thanks to sponsors stepping in) but it's a situation that could've been avoided – by fans buying tickets!
All week long I listened to talk radio hosts and fans blast one another at first, and then ultimately, the team, for the game nearly being blacked out in Wisconsin – which would’ve been the first time it happened since the strike-shortened season of 1982.
Many issues were cited as to why the Packers didn’t sell out within a day or two, but the primary one I heard about was the new policy of not refunding the money laid out for games that aren’t played – they would instead be applied directly to next year’s season ticket packages.
It is true – this was a policy change enacted for the first time.
But – it was not a surprise, or at least it shouldn’t have been.
Season ticket holders were informed of this change when they received all of their 2013 ticketing information.
Now, I’m like many others – no one reads the "terms" of things anymore. We just click "agree" if it’s online or toss the paper away if it’s the same thing (we assume) we get year after year.
Why did the Packers do this? Trust me, it wasn’t to "screw" with anyone.
Honestly, it’s a logistical issue. Last year there was a change in playoff ticket buying, where people could use credit cards as opposed to cash or check. Fans could do that again this year. That was done, presumably, as the request of fans and to make things easier for everyone.
Well, let’s just say when you start doing things digitally, speed isn’t always guaranteed – especially when you’re trying to move money around if games are played, and then also trying to secure funds for the next season within the windows the NFL dictates.
The biggest issue, honestly, was the fact that the team wasn’t very good when it sent out its request for playoff purchases back on Nov. 22. The Packers had just lost three in a row and Aaron Rodgers was gone, maybe, for the entire season.
Two days later, came the tie game to the Vikings. Six days later was the low point of the season, the 40-10 Thanksgiving Day massacre in Detroit. Money was due six days after that, on Dec. 4.
It’s no wonder why the team’s sizeable Green and Gold season ticket base elected to pass. I would’ve, too.
Well, who knew that the Packers would win three of their last four to win the NFC North? No one could’ve, really. But it wouldn’t have mattered – that playoff window was long gone.
So, when the team clinched on Sunday night, season ticket holders were once again given an exclusive window between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Monday to purchase about 40,000 tickets. At 3 p.m., they would be released to the general public.
By 11 a.m. or so on Friday, Lambeau Field was sold out.
To me, it sounded like sour grapes from Packers season ticket holders when things got nasty this week.
They had two exclusive windows to buy up tickets. Then, when they passed (for whatever reason) the local and national media descended, taking aim and their "loyalty" and "passion" for their team.
So, the natural thing was to turn the heat back on the team.
While the Packers admit that they’ll revisit the no-refund policy this offseason, per team president and CEO Mark Murphy, that’s how nearly every team in every major league sport has done things for years.
The first year something is changed, and people don’t pay attention until it affects them, it always causes issues.
Murphy said Friday he was a little surprised that it took a full week to sell out, but he was realistic about it, too.
He knew where the team stood when the invoices were first due. He knows the Packers are a regional and national brand, and when you’re asked within a short window (that includes a holiday) to plan a trip, it’s difficult.
"It’s a pretty short turnaround," Murphy said. "We didn’t know we’d host a playoff game until Sunday night. It was difficult for fans to plan.
"I think our fans just were great in terms of rallying together and to sell it out in a short period of time we that we did."
He was diplomatic, because he had to be.
I know many will disagree with me on this, but as an outside observer with no real stake in whether the game was sold out or not, or why, it seemed as if Packers fans got their feelings hurt when their loyalty was questioned.
In reality, it should’ve been, because they had the chance (on several occasions) to buy tickets and didn't. That's fine. No one begrudges that. Just don't throw a fit when you're called out for it, though.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.