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Green Bay Packers meeting festive after end to NFL lockout

by

By Mary Wisniewski

GREEN BAY, Wis (Reuters) - Green Bay Packer shareholder Jackie Krueger, tailgating in a hotel parking lot before the team's shareholder meeting on Thursday, had one word about the end of this year's player lockout: "YES!"

"It would have been really bad," said Krueger, 57, who along with her husband Bob owns the Pioneer Grill and Saloon in Menominee, Wisconsin. "Not having a game day would have affected us financially."

The Packer shareholder meeting, held every year in July, is usually a festive occasion, but this year's was more celebratory than most.

The Green Bay team was just coming off a Super Bowl win over the Pittsburgh Steelers when the contract dispute between National Football League owners and players resulted in a lockout, putting the start of the next season in question.

The lockout ended on Monday, after players and owners agreed to a multi-billion dollar, 10-year deal.

"It was more critical than the national debt situation," Jackie Krueger's brother-in-law, Bill Krueger, 62, of Alexandria, Virginia, said. "It's hard on the fans."

A continuation of the lockout would have had a serious impact on life in Green Bay, a town of 100,000 and the smallest city with an NFL team. The Packers bring business to hotels, bars and restaurants, and jobs for local residents.

A delay to the season "would have been devastating," said a stadium usher who asked not to be identified, adding she never doubted a deal would be reached. "There's too much money at stake."

OWNED BY SHAREHOLDERS

The Green Bay team is unique among National Football League teams in that it is publicly owned by its supporters. The team's more than 4.7 million shares are owned by more than 112,000 shareholders, none of whom receives a dividend.

While most ordinary business shareholder meetings are reserved affairs in hotel meeting rooms, Packer meetings are held outdoors in Lambeau Field with shareholders dressed in Packers gear, eating bratwurst and fanning themselves with their financial reports against the hot July sun.

No one shareholder can own more than 200,000 shares. About 11,700 shareholders showed up for Thursday's meeting, Packers spokesman Aaron Popkey said.

At the meeting, the shareholders cheered speeches by general manager Ted Thompson and CEO and President Mark Murphy at nearly every full stop - nothing like a Super Bowl victory to make management look good.

"It's great to have labor peace," said Murphy, who said as he was glad to get the deal signed before the shareholders' meeting. "This might have had a little different flavor if it hadn't been resolved."

One shareholder, Daniel Loberger, 51, of Appleton, Wisconsin, dressed as Elvis with black sideburns, sequined sun-glasses and a green-and-gold jumpsuit. "I was getting kind of nervous there," he said of the prolonged lockout, fearing he would have to watch college football instead.

Allan Giese, 60, of Shawano, Wisconsin, agreed that it was nice to relax with a 10-year deal in place.

"I'm glad that now the politics are out of the way and the fans can go back to enjoying the game," Giese said.

(Writing and reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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