A potted history of the Green Bay Packers’ season ticket waiting list
There is something intoxicating about cities that have just one professional sports team. Those sequestered clubs serve as organs of municipal pride and hubs of communal camaraderie. There is beauty in the obsessive, maniacal fandom that incubates such teams, which morph into beloved institutions penetrating all facets of civic life. Local fandom is passed down like a cherished family heirloom, from one generation to the next, and team iconography – logos, colours, uniforms – is stitched into a shared worldview.
There are a few standout examples of such undivided adulation, most readily in soccer. Napoli, Marseille and Borussia Dortmund spring to mind. But by far the greatest example of a one-team city is Green Bay, Wisconsin, where a population of 107,000 orbits the hometown Packers, a historic NFL juggernaut. Sure, there are other sports teams in Wisconsin – most notably the Bucks and Brewers of Milwaukee – but the relative outpost of Green Bay is a bulwark of provincial passion. Few places on earth so envelop their local team in a cocoon of steadfast worship.
In Green Bay, everything is green and gold, in homage to the Packers. Since 1959, every home game at Lambeau Field has been sold out – more than 75% of the city’s population gathering around its sacrosanct gridiron. Moreover, Packers fans literally own their team – a unique arrangement in professional North American sports. In sum, the Packers are a big deal in that part of the world. They may be the biggest deal, in fact, and that outsized importance has always fascinated me.
A few years back, I recall watching a BBC documentary where Reggie Yates visited Green Bay to explore the Packers’ eminence. In the film, a fantastic portrayal of the Titletown milieu, Yates met then-Green Bay mayor Jim Schmitt, bedecked in Packers garb and surrounded by football memorabilia in his office. Yates also accompanied the parents of a week-old baby as they placed their newborn on the Packers’ season ticket waiting list. The family literally took a stroller to the Lambeau Field ticket office and joined the legendary list. The child took spot 117,957 in the queue, and may finally land tickets sometime in the 2080s.
Yes, you read that correctly. If you join the Packers’ season ticket waiting list today, you will likely wait more than 60 years to be offered seats at Lambeau Field. Interest in the team runs that deep, and has for decades. Right now, the Packers’ season ticket waiting list contains 148,000 names – more than the Green Bay census itself. That only tells half the story, though, because fans can request a maximum of four general stadium seats or eight premium club seats when joining the list. Therefore, even if capped for illustrative purposes at four tickets per waiting list member, there could realistically be almost 600,000 people before a newcomer in the queue. That is simply incredible.
Of course, much is made of the Packers’ season ticket waiting list, which is referenced so often on television broadcasts as to border banal cliché. However, few dig beneath the surface and consider the list’s history. Fewer still are enthralled by its minutiae. The List looms as an abstract totem of Packers devotion, but the nuts and bolts – such as when the list was first created, and by whom – are arguably even more captivating. At least to a nerd like me. This, then, is my attempt to explore The List itself, rather than replaying what it has come to represent.
“There’s no record of when the waiting list started,” say the Packers on their own website. That line was reiterated by Katie Hermsen, the team’s public affairs manager, in response to my initial enquiries. “The waiting list began in the early-1960s when Lambeau Field first became sold out on a season-ticket basis,” explained Hermsen. “As for who had the idea for it, I believe it was simply common practice.”
Probing deeper – beyond the misplaced myths and regurgitated rhetoric – I unearthed more details about The List, even if charting its complex origin story remains a cumbersome challenge. It is a tale of paper files and digital transformation, innocent opportunism and entrepreneurial zeal. It is a tale that bisects Packers history, before and after the revolutionary reign of Vince Lombardi. It is a tale worthy of greater reminiscence, and I invite you to do just that while indulging my curiosity.
The Green Bay Packers once burned unsold tickets
Though historic and successful – winning six NFL championships pre-Lombardi, under innovative coach Curly Lambeau – there was a spartan simplicity to the Green Bay Packers for many decades. From 1925 through 1956, they played at City Stadium, a wooden, horseshoe-shaped edifice that originally seated 6,000 spectators. Through gradual expansion, capacity increased to 25,000, but a sustainable business model proved elusive.
Accordingly, in 1933, seeking a financial boost, the Packers began to play part of their home schedule in Milwaukee each year – at Borchert Park, State Fair Park, Marquette Stadium, and eventually Milwaukee County Stadium. Travelling 110 miles south was considered a smart ploy to expand the Packers’ catchment area, and the scheme eventually worked, augmenting a burgeoning Green Bay fanbase.
Lambeau left in 1949, and the 1950s were a lost decade for the Packers, who flailed amid inadequate leadership. However, fresh hope emerged in 1957, as the Packers played the Green Bay portion of their home schedule at a new City Stadium, purpose-built across the Fox River. Later renamed after Lambeau, the new stadium originally seated 32,500 – a healthy increase on the old park. As such, the Packers embarked on a concerted ticket sales drive – led by Earl Falck, ticket director, with assistance from Merrill Knowlton, Gene Sladky and Paul Mazzoleni, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette – to fill the new joint.
That first year, the Packers sold around 29,000 season tickets for their games in Green Bay, per the Press-Gazette, falling around 3,000 short of capacity. Those numbers fell to 26,078 a year later, as a woeful 3-9 record in 1957 dampened enthusiasm. In fact, it was so hard to move Packers tickets in the mid-1950s that the team outsourced sales to various rudimentary ‘agencies’ – often local mom and pop stores that bought season tickets then sold seats on a single-game basis. Even then, the Packers could not get rid of their allocation, especially in Milwaukee, and gallows humour engulfed a resigned ticket office.
“We were reminded of two fires Friday,” wrote the Press-Gazette on 18 January 1958. “The first was a few feet away from the Press-Gazette sports desk and, of course, that's been put out. The other blaze involves Packer tickets. No kidding. Earl Falck, the Packer ticket chief, said yesterday afternoon that, ‘We're ready to burn 'em up.’ He was referring to the unused tickets from the Packers' six home games. ‘Called the government tax people and they'll be in one of these days. Then we'll take 'em to the incinerator and burn 'em up,’ Earl was explaining…The big blaze, of course, will result from the leftovers from the three games in Milwaukee. A total of 236,462 tickets (42,154 per game) were printed for the three in Milwaukee and 61,682 were left over – enough for a good smudge.”
Vince Lombardi, revolution, and the last non-sellout in Lambeau Field history
Following a dismal 1-10-1 season in 1958, the worst in franchise history, the Packers sought a new figurehead. Head coach Ray McLean resigned, and a sense of existential urgency propelled the Packers to find a disruptive mastermind to lead their resurgence. In Vincent Thomas Lombardi, an overlooked assistant coach with the New York Giants, they found a latent genius in need of an opportunity. Passed over for several head coaching vacancies around the league, Lombardi negotiated full autonomy in Green Bay, which was quickly transformed by his unprecedented vision.
Under Lombardi, the Packers embarked on a dynastic run that set a hallowed standard in modern football. Green Bay won NFL championships in 1961, 1962 and 1965 under Lombardi, then also claimed the first two Super Bowls – in 1966 and 1967, respectively. Indeed, such was Lombardi’s influence, the Super Bowl trophy was named after him in 1970. There was a prestigious aura to Lombardi and his synonymous Packers, who won fans across America.
Once mere kindling, Packers tickets became an increasingly hot commodity, and the team’s last Green Bay home game before a less-than-capacity crowd came on 22 November 1959, when 31,853 witnessing a 21-0 win over the Washington Redskins. There was a magnetism to Lombardi’s Packers, and momentum swirled around Green Bay. As such, in 1960-61, the Packers sold 31,019 season tickets for their games at City Stadium – a 96% occupancy rate, topped up by gameday sales. Milwaukee lagged behind with around 12,500 season tickets sold in the cavernous County Stadium, but day-trippers saw the team average 37,838 for the two games in Brew Town, as well.
A year later, 1961-62, spurred by increased demand, the team added 6,300 seats in Green Bay, and season ticket sales topped 37,000 there. In fact, Lombardi announced the Packers had sold out of Green Bay season tickets – for the first time in team history – while attending a Wisconsin Amateur Golf Association banquet. A further 16,000 season tickets were sold in Milwaukee, where interest continued to grow. “Wherever they’re sold, season ticket renewals are returning at a rapid clip at the Packers’ ticket office,” wrote the Press-Gazette. “And ticket director Earl Falck is smiling.”
From that day forth, Packers attendance in Green Bay ran at a surplus, in terms of demand versus supply. Each year, the Packers sent out letters, from Lombardi himself, that invited season ticket holders to renew their seats by ticking a box and returning a renewal form. Ticketholders could even have the Packers invoice them, creating a simple process that produced excellent retention rates. Few Green Bay tickets lapsed each season, giving the Packers a robust foundation on which to build a loyal fanbase.
Origins of the Green Bay Packers season ticket waiting list
At that point, back in 1962, the Packers probably began maintaining a ‘waiting list’ for season tickets in Green Bay, but Lombardi and team officials pushed for yearly increases in capacity at City Stadium, truncating the time most fans spent awaiting seats. The Packers kept adding new seats to City Stadium, often in the form of hastily erected bleachers and temporary grandstands, keeping the backlog of interested parties to a minimum.
In 1963, for example, capacity in Green Bay grew to 42,327, against 44,255 season ticket applications. “City Stadium is oversubscribed in season tickets for the four league games,” reported the Press-Gazette. “As a matter of fact, we have had to stop the sale of individual tickets to accommodate the season ticket requests,” added Lombardi. This, quite poetically, echoes the predicament of latter day Packers fans trying to watch their team.
Interestingly, though, there have always been multiple Packers season ticket waiting lists, rather than one gigantic queue. Why? Because the Packers’ split home schedule created two foundational pillars to their fanbase: one in Green Bay, and the other in Milwaukee. To that end, the Packers first sold out of Milwaukee season tickets during the 1964-65 season, as more than 40,000 were purchased at County Stadium. A Milwaukee waiting list likely complemented the Green Bay one around this time, though only diehards would have reserved a place on both, given the travel involved between both cities.
In 1965, buoyed by perennial success under Lombardi, the Packers added 8,365 new seats to City Stadium, taking capacity to 50,692. Even then, demand outstripped supply, as the Green Bay season ticket waiting list began to lengthen. “The Packers have enough season ticket requests to fill approximately 57,000 seats for the four games,” reported the Press-Gazette. The same newspaper subsequently printed the first formal mention of a waiting list on 2 March 1965, explaining how, “The Milwaukee office has a waiting list of 2,500 persons who are requesting over 10,000 tickets.”
By the late-1960s, however, the distinction between Milwaukee and Green Bay was often overlooked by journalists, who – perhaps lazily – preferred reference to one grand, amorphous list. For example, in Vince, a terrific Lombardi biography, author Michael O’Brien says the Packers’ season ticket waiting list (singular) contained 6,000 names by 1967. In reality, those ticket-seekers were probably spread between Green Bay and Milwaukee, and their names were likely kept in different files.
The surging value of Green Bay Packers season tickets
Technicalities aside, in December 1967, the Chippewa Herald-Telegram carried news of the first scandal involving the Packers’ ticket queue. Robert Schnur, a Shorewood attorney, claimed the Packers refused him a spot on the waiting list when he declined to solicit political support for further stadium expansions. The Packers admitted sending letters to those on the waiting list urging them to lobby local officials to back proposals for additional seating at City Stadium, but denied barring fans from applying for season tickets. Some even accused the team of moving names up the list if applicants canvassed their county supervisors, though neither claim was substantiated.
Meanwhile, after winning Super Bowl II, 33-14 over the Oakland Raiders, Lombardi took a step back from coaching. Packers fever continued apace, though, as demonstrated by an otherwise forgotten business deal drenched in symbolism. Olson Transportation, a Green Bay trucking firm, sold for $5 million in 1968, but the company’s 40 Packers season tickets were excluded from the deal. Some things cannot be bought, and Packers season tickets hurtled towards that category.
Mark Wagner, yearly postcards, and the interminable wait for Packers season tickets
Even as capacity at the recently-renamed Lambeau Field increased to 56,263 in 1970, the Packers’ season ticket waiting lists continued to grow simultaneously. By 1975, the lists contained more than 8,000 names, and responsibility for managing them – in paper form – was passed to a new generation of Packers staff, as Mark Wagner replaced Falck and Knowlton as ticket manager.
Wagner joined a two-person ticket office staff that did not have a computer to manage records. As retold by Packers News, the team lent a computer at the Associated Bank Operations Center, a 10-minute drive from Lambeau Field, and often sent handwritten index cards over for digital updates. Indeed, even during Wagner’s earliest days, interested fans could still call the Packers via telephone and ask to join the season ticket waiting lists in Green Bay or Milwaukee. One obscure forum entry even recalls the team using a spiral notebook to collect names as late as 1978. How quaint.
Wagner ran a tight ship in the Packers ticket office. Early in his tenure, Virginia Anderson and Marge Paget ran Milwaukee ticket sales, while Jerilyn Whitney (née Van Rens) worked as a ticket office secretary. Whitney helped coordinate one of Wagner’s most notable innovations: the annual sending of postcards to every member of the Packers’ season ticket waiting lists, informing each of their updated priority number in the respective queues. First trialled in the early-1980s, the yearly receipt of these postcards became a rite of passage for Packers fans and something of an unofficial public holiday across Wisconsin. In a good year, fans saw their name move a couple hundred spots. And in a bad year? Single-digit movement was not uncommon.
Carol Edwin, Wayne Wichlacz, and digitising the Packers’ season ticket waiting list
The Packers continued to evolve throughout the 1980s, slowly transforming from an austere local amenity to a finetuned national enterprise. New administrative offices were built at Lambeau in 1982, and capacity rose to 59,543 by 1990. Still, more than 12,000 people awaited Packers season tickets by 1992, and those at the bottom of the queue faced a 25-year wait, on average, for a chance to purchase seats.
Needless to say, maintaining such a bank of names – especially in paper form – became increasingly difficult. The ticket office staff continued to expand, and long-serving employee Carol Edwin moved into an important secretary role in the early-1990s, tasked with streamlining processes. Indeed, by 1993, Edwin was cited as ‘keeper of the list’ by the Greensboro News & Record – a major honour in Green Bay. Edwin even created a minor storm when admitting to the Jackson Sun that two unborn children had been placed on one of the Packers’ waiting lists. Some fans cried foul at the lack of transparency.
The need for a quicker, more reliable system became readily apparent in the early-1990s, and like many professional sports teams during that era, the Packers began to contemplate digitisation. To that end, in 1993, for the first time, the Packers’ media guide referenced a ‘Director of Computer Services.’ The man tasked with fulfilling that brief, and preparing the Packers for a digital-first future, was Wayne Wichlacz, a University of Wisconsin-Green Bay graduate who previously worked at McDonnell Douglas.
“I watched as he built the Green Bay Packers’ IT department from scratch into one with a dozen employees, working to solve complex issues for the team’s football operations and its business units,” reads one LinkedIn testimonial for Wichlacz. To wit, by November 1995, Wagner used a computer to monitor the Packers’ season ticket waiting list, as mentioned in a report by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. Wichlacz’ role in that transformation should never be overlooked.
Goodbye, Milwaukee – The Packers’ Green and Gold season ticket packages explained
Another seismic change occurred in 1994, when the Packers stopped playing home games in Milwaukee and introduced two season ticket packages – Green and Gold – as a way to satiate fans. Those who had Packers season tickets in Milwaukee – around 46,000 – were offered a three-game (including pre-season) Gold Package for Lambeau Field. Team president Bob Harlan told PR News Online that 97% of Milwaukee season ticket holders accepted the Gold Package, complementing the 54,000 who already had season tickets at Lambeau. Those existing Lambeau acolytes received the Green Package, gaining access to seven home games (including pre-season). And thus, another wrinkle emerged in the ineffable quest for Packers tickets.
The disparate packages remain a contentious issue among Cheeseheads, who often squabble over logistics. Gold Package members are often branded quieter, less intense and more likely to sell their tickets on the secondary market than their Green counterparts, though such tropes are largely unfounded. Besides, the Packers probably would not exist today – at least not in their current guise – if not for the sustenance offered by Milwaukee for six decades.
Practically, however, the Packers’ leaving Milwaukee meant that, finally, there was one singular waiting list for season tickets – legitimising an esoteric myth born of hyperbole and conflation. However, from 1995 on, those lucky enough to graduate the consolidated season ticket waiting list and be offered seats faced another dilemma: whether to accept the Gold Package, always offered first, or remain in the queue for the more-desired Green plan. Taking the Gold Package could truncate one’s wait, but doing so meant foregoing tickets to six regular season home games per year – a dicey dilemma.
Therefore, is anyone truly a Packers season ticket holder, when you really think about it? By my reckoning, only those with Green and Gold Packages are guaranteed tickets to every home game, and that exclusive cohort is ‘small,’ per this team missive from 2013. Packers season tickets are shrouded in mystery, and this may be one of the most misunderstood aspects of the entire scenario. Very few people attend every single Packers home game.
Estate planning and wills – Inheriting Green Bay Packers season tickets
Nevertheless, capacity at Lambeau was increased to 60,890 in 1995-96, the first season without Packers games in Milwaukee since 1932-33. Even accounting for the Milwaukee migration, and the diversified season ticket plans, more than 22,000 people remained on the Packers’ waiting list as young quarterback Brett Favre won his first MVP award. Indeed, Favre was a hugely popular player who rekindled championship aspirations in Green Bay, a relatively rare occurrence post-Lombardi. Favre fuelled a new wave of Packers devotion.
Correspondingly, the Packers received just nine season ticket cancellations before the 1997 campaign, which they entered as defending Super Bowl champions. At that rate, with just one new seat dispensed each year, those at the bottom of the Packers’ season ticket waiting list – surpassing 32,000 in 1997 – faced a 3,500-year wait for their name to be called. Some fans probably had a better shot at replacing Favre under centre than dislodging diehards in the stands – a true barometer of Packers passion.
“The easiest way to get season tickets is through the death of an immediate family member who leaves the prized objects behind in his or her will,” explained Johnette Howard for Sports Illustrated in 1997. “Green Bay ticket manager Mark Wagner admits he has heard every ruse in his 19 years on the job – sob stories, bald-faced lies, even offers of bribes – from Packers fans determined to get season tickets. Inevitably, some impatient fans suspect that others have come by their tickets by less-than-ethical means, even though the transfer of the title to tickets requires notarisation. Some fans have even blown the whistle on others who have renewed the tickets of a relative who died without bequeathing the tickets to them.”
For that reason alone, a cottage industry bloomed around estate planning in Green Bay, with several law firms specialising in the niche practice of transferring Packers season tickets. “In my estate planning practice, many clients have had Green Bay Packers season tickets, and for the most part, dealing with their tickets has been easy,” wrote attorney Sara Andrew in 2011. “In a typical simple estate plan, the decedent’s assets usually pass to the spouse. If there is no spouse, or if the spouse dies before the decedent, then the assets go to the decedent’s children in equal shares. If the children are equal beneficiaries, there could be issues transferring Packers tickets. The Green Bay Packers policy requires that the owner of a season ticket be either an individual or a business. If a ticket owner has five children, and each child wants to own the season tickets, they might not agree on one owner. Even bigger problems could arise if the family situation is more complicated, or if the tickets are a part of a more complicated business situation.”
The big business of Green Bay Packers season tickets
Regardless of legal loopholes, the Packers pressed ahead in the 1990s and stoked ticket demand with a relatable, aspirational brand and an increased focus on digital initiatives, befitting the zeitgeist. A new website – packers.com – housed instructions for joining the season ticket waiting list, which contained more than 50,000 names by the new millennium.
However, around this time, as the Packers developed into a global powerhouse, some old school pundits accused the team of losing touch with its humble roots. In 2001, for instance, the Packers introduced a controversial license fee – ranging from $600 to $1,400 – for the right to use seats. Ostensibly, the license fees were used to subsidise a $295 million renovation of Lambeau Field, but almost 7,000 ticketholders declined to renew their season tickets. Still, the waiting list continued to grow, topping 56,000 by 2002. Money was no object to a slither of the fanbase, and ceaseless demand drove ticket prices skyward.
Lambeau Field continued to expand – from 72,000 seats in 2003 to 80,750 a decade later – but so, too, did the Packers’ season ticket waiting. When Favre finally left Green Bay in 2007, more than 70,000 people sought Packers season tickets. And by the time Aaron Rodgers, the quarterback heir, carried Green Bay to another Super Bowl triumph in January 2011, the list contained 86,000 names. Interest in the Packers proved evergreen, and the NFL’s surging popularity poured fuel on the flames.
Indeed, some fans became so invested in the Packers that team allegiances trumped family loyalty. In 2009, for example, two brothers became embroiled in a legal battle over 13 Packers season tickets bequeathed by their late father. Walter Christman left the tickets to his son, Michael, in a trust agreement, telling Michael to split the proceeds from any sale – 55% to Michael and 45% to Peter, his brother. When Michael sold some tickets – for up to $295 per game – and gave Peter just a fraction of the profits, Peter filed a lawsuit and the siblings wound up in court. Getting into Lambeau Field became big business, and cash contaminated bloodlines in the battle to see the Packers.
Accordingly, in 2012, approximately 50 years after its creation, the Packers’ season ticket waiting list topped 100,000 names – a major landmark. Wagner retired as ticket lead in June 2017, to be replaced by Jason McDonough, who still heads the division now. Some say he has the easiest job in sports – selling Packers tickets to an enormous captive audience – but maintaining the season ticket waiting list cannot be easy.
How many people are on the Green Bay Packers season ticket waiting list? Where we stand today, and how we go forward
Certainly, for all the frustration and indignation that surrounds the Packers’ season ticket waiting list, it continues to produce wholesome stories, such as Cory Vogel finally getting tickets in 2022 after a 49-year wait. In fairness, the Packers have tried to clamp down on disinterested ticketholders selling their seats for commercial gain rather than returning them to the team. There will always be anomalies and loopholes in the process, but the team seems genuinely interested in expediting the wait for season tickets. How they achieve that remains to be seen.
Today, among the 148,000 waiting for Packers season tickets are people from every US state, plus Canada, Japan, Australia, the UK and further afield. Those currently at the top of the list joined it in the early-1990s, before current Packers quarterback Jordan Love was born. Such is the overlapping, inter-generational love for this quirky team from this tiny town, snow-covered and football-obsessed. I plan to join the list myself one day, as a gift to my future great-great grandchildren. You have to start them early, after all. That is the Green Bay Way.