For NFL teams, the COVID-disrupted 2020 season will be a tale of two revenue streams: national TV money that continued its upward trend, and local revenue that plummeted due to empty stadiums.
Each NFL team received a record $309.2 million in national revenue last year, according to numbers released Friday by the Green Bay Packers. That figure is driven primarily by the league’s multi-billion-dollar TV contracts, which were fulfilled in their entirety when the league played a full regular season and playoffs.
Local revenue is a completely different story. The Packers reported just $61.8 million in local revenue in 2020, down 71% from the 2019 season. That money comes from most ticket sales, sponsorships, game-day income and merchandise sales.
It resulted in an operating loss of $38.8 million, the first time in more than 20 years that the team, which plays in the NFL’s smallest market, failed to turn an operating profit.
“This was a very challenging year,” team president Mark Murphy said in a call with reporters. "We really feel like we remain in a strong financial position going forward and that we will continue to be able to provide resources for the organization to be successful."
While the general trend will be the same for all 32 NFL teams—national revenue up, local down—the specifics will vary depending on how many fans they allowed through the turnstiles last year. The Packers, for example, had limited fans for their final four home games, plus two postseason games.
Those shortfalls will also be temporary—while the league’s top-line revenue will clearly dip significantly from the pre-pandemic level of $16 billion, it is expected to be a one-year hiccup. Not only are teams preparing for full stadiums this fall, but the league just signed another $105 billion in media deals that kick in for the 2023 season. Because of built-in escalators in both the current and next media contracts, that national media bucket will almost certainly increase for each of the next 12-plus years.
“For all of us in the NFL, it’s reassuring to know that that’s out there,” Murphy said. “I think it’s affected us in terms of some of the decisions we make on projects and things of that nature, knowing that we’re going to have that income stream.”
The Packers are a publicly owned nonprofit, which operates differently than a public company. The team issues shares that don’t appreciate, pay no dividends, and cannot be resold. Its 2012 sale raised $64 million.
The unique structure, which includes limited annual disclosures, has become the only regular public glimpse into the financials of the league. The NFL gave up its tax-exempt status in 2015, so it no longer releases information such as commissioner Roger Goodell’s salary.
Murphy noted three things that helped the Packers offset some of the revenue shortfall. The team didn't need to dip into its corporate reserves, now up to $511 million, but it used those funds to open a credit facility (Murphy declined to comment on the specifics of that facility). The team’s investments also benefited from the strong market performance during its fiscal year—gains jumped to $120 million following a $21 million loss the prior year—and a number of season ticket holders allowed the team to keep their deposits.