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Packers cite player costs in $10.3M drop in operating profit

The Green Bay Packers remain profitable, just not as much as they have been in recent years.

And as the only NFL team that opens its books to the public, this year's financial report is certain to come up in the league's labor negotiations.

Packers officials said Wednesday that the team posted an operating profit of $9.8 million in the fiscal year that ended March 31, down from $20.1 million the previous year. The team has been in a slide since posting an operating profit of $34 million four years ago.

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Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy attributed the decrease mostly to escalating player costs, putting the team squarely in the middle of a contentious debate between players and owners over a new collective bargaining agreement.

"There are some trends that we have seen over the last couple of years that continued, and obviously one of those is the escalation of player costs," Murphy said. "Our player costs continue to grow at a rate faster than our revenue."

As a publicly owned team, the Packers must report financial information to shareholders. Packers officials briefed selected media outlets, including The Associated Press, on the team's finances.

Taking into account investment losses that were less severe in 2009-2010 than the previous fiscal year, the team reported net income of $5.2 million, up from $4 million.

The team said player costs have increased 11.8 percent annually over the past four seasons, while revenue went up just 5.5 percent annually during the same timeframe.

"It's not just this year," Murphy said. "We've seen these trends for a number of years now that really point out some of the issues that we have with the current agreement."

That's the key sticking point between players and owners in negotiations on a new deal, with owners wanting players to take a significantly smaller share of overall money the league receives. If the two sides don't agree to a deal, they face the prospect of a labor stoppage in 2011.

Packers officials are aware that this year's report will be more closely scrutinized than in years past. They know some might even suspect them of painting an overly bleak financial picture to influence fan opinion.

"We can't help the way other people look at it," Packers vice president of administration/general counsel Jason Wied said. "But we have taken the same approach with our books, with our accounting principles, with the way we do business, with the way we pay our football team this year as we have in any year prior."

Murphy said the Packers actually might be in better financial shape than other teams carrying significant debt service on new stadiums. He doesn't expect other teams to open up their books, something the NFL Players Association has long demanded.

"It's 1/32nd of the financial information we've requested in response to their demand that we give back $1 billion and increase our risk of injury by playing two additional games," NFLPA president Kevin Mawae said in a statement released Wednesday on the union's Web site.

Said Murphy: "The players have all the information. They have audit rights to all of our revenue. They have everything they need to reach an agreement. (Late former union head) Gene Upshaw never had access to the owners' books and was able to negotiate several extensions."

Murphy, who worked for the union after his playing career was over, now is playing a key role in negotiations on the owners' side.

"We want to reach an agreement with the players, and we will," Murphy said. "We want it sooner rather than later. But we want it to be an agreement, a system that works not just for the owners but for the players and addresses some of these issues."

The Packers' nest egg -- the so-called "preservation fund" -- remains at $127.5 million.

Murphy also clarified reports about whether NFL owners will continue to receive money from the league's national television contracts during a labor stoppage.

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Murphy said owners will receive money from the networks, but they will have to pay the money back -- with the exception of a portion that it receives from a contract with DirecTV. Murphy didn't provide specific numbers.

The Packers received $157 million in national revenue last year, an increase of $10 million. That includes $95.7 million in television revenue, up from $94.5 million.

But the team's locally generated revenue has been flat in recent years, dipping to $100.4 million last year from $100.8 million the previous year.

Looking for a boost, the team is exploring the possibility of expanding Lambeau Field and building new businesses on property it owns near the stadium. Focusing on the south end zone, Murphy said the team could increase Lambeau's capacity by up to 9,000 with new seats or standing-room-only tickets.

"Whatever we do, we want to do it right and make sure it's consistent with Lambeau," Murphy said.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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