People often ask, “What do you guys do in the offseason?” It’s a fair question, considering there’s no baseball to be played or outdoor corporate hospitality events, birthday parties, little groups or fundraisers to host. While we work standard office hours Monday through Friday, planning all the fun for our fans, we also get to take back our free time and do the things we can’t make time to do during the busy season. For me, that includes a large amount of time spent watching my favorite sport, football. While it’s been trying times as a Nittany Lion faithful, and equally as tumultuous as an Aaron Rodgers idolizing cheesehead, I had two great experiences seeing each play in back-to-back weekends. Sure, getting to go behind-the-scenes and hang out in the Press Box at Beaver Stadium where I got to press the button to play the “Lion Roar” sound was cool. But nothing compares to the weekend to follow – I FINALLY made the journey to the hallowed grounds of Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Before we get to the fun, let’s set the stage for the trip. Originally, I wanted to go in Week 7 and see Drew Brees and the Saints. Actually, I really want to be there to see my favorite player’s return to Green Bay. Remember that time in 2011 when we hosted the Atlantic League All-Star Game and yours truly was fresh off an internship and tasked to coordinate the special league celebration? One of the most challenging elements to nail down was who would throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Luckily, one of York’s sons was fresh off a Super Bowl victory and free to make the trip, thanks in part to the player lockout. I’ll never forget the moment John Kuhn got out of the car on the field and the record crowd bellowed “KUUUHHHHHNNNN!!!” It was a gratifying moment to know I helped create such a special experience and all-time great memory for our fans. It was an even better moment later on when he realized I was a big-time Packers fan and let me put on his Super Bowl XLV ring and take a picture with it.
OK, back to planning a trip to football mecca and why I didn’t go in Week 7. We all know it’s more fun to attend sporting events with your friends. A couple of mine are Ravens fans, living in Baltimore, who wanted to see Lambeau Field and figured it was as good a time as any to make the trek. They also rightfully sold me on the fact that if we were making the trip, we had to get the full fan experience and go when the temperature would validate the “Frozen Tundra” moniker. So we bought tickets for the week 11 tilt against the Baltimore Ravens – one we thought would feature a match-up of two Super Bowl MVP quarterbacks. As fate would have it, it’s good I didn’t go to see the John Kuhn homecoming. He tore his bicep early in the season and was sidelined for the year. The injury that was really disheartening, however, was the fractured clavicle that sidelined Aaron Rodgers (see G.O.A.T. in Dictionary). Still, nothing was going to ruin our group’s outing to Green Bay.
Working for a sports team whose mission is to provide “Best Day Ever” experiences to our customers – one takes fun seriously – it was easy to get my vacation days approved. Our flights and hotel accommodations were booked, game tickets and VIP all-you-can-eat tailgate tickets purchased, and my warmest clothes were packed. I researched the local restaurants, breweries, and things to see while in town and had a list of to-dos to make sure we maximized the potential for a fun time. Our flight out of Baltimore stopped in Chicago before landing in Milwaukee. It was a two-hour drive in the rental car to our hotel in Green Bay (shout out to the AmericInn – would recommend!). After a long day of travel, we walked to the bar across the street to grab a cocktail and plan our next day’s itinerary. I had convinced my buddies to get up early and start our day with the behind-the-scenes stadium tour and booked our group reservation. The fellow “Baltimorons” we ran into at the bar had done the tour earlier that day and highly recommended it, so we knew that was a good place to start. (Author’s note – my buddies are self-proclaimed Baltimorons, so this term was thrown around casually all weekend and is not intended to demean or offend the fine folks of Baltimore, MD). We decided on our post-tour lunch spot and were reminded by the bartender that college football started at 11 a.m. in Wisconsin. Knowing we’d better rest up, we agreed we’d play it by ear and figure the rest out as we went along.
Saturday morning, we woke up early, dressed warm and called an Uber to take us to Lambeau Field. We booked the first available behind-the-scenes stadium tour at 8 a.m. The first thing we saw when we entered the stadium was a massive Lombardi trophy sculpture – I’m guessing 60’ tall – right next to elevator taking us upstairs to the main atrium. That was just the tip of the iceberg as far as stadium décor goes. The atrium is a newly renovated part of the facility that was built to host special events like autograph signings, shareholder meetings, and other non-game events. The neatest part about it was that the floor depicting a football field and the yard lines actually match up exactly with those of the field, a tremendous detail! Our tour guide was in his late sixties, was born and raised in Green Bay, and had the Midwestern accent to prove it. He was dressed head to toe in Packers garb, with his silver hair poking out the sides of his ball cap and an excited twinkle in his eye. His body language and charisma emitted the enthusiasm of the most faithful of team fanatics, and his team knowledge was encyclopedic. It was immediately clear that this team employee took great pride in his job to deliver a top-level fan experience. There wasn’t a single moment during our interaction that he wasn’t genuinely excited to be educating us about the Packers and Lambeau Field.
We got to see the VIP club level suites, the artwork adorning the hallways, the luxury suites, and the rooftop social space, and – my favorite of all – we got to run through the team tunnel onto field level! We learned about the heating system under the playing surface and how there’s artificial turf blades sewn into the real grass every square inch, got a history lesson on the how Curly Lambeau founded the Green Bay Packers, and heard the history of the stadiums, including Lambeau Field’s long history and renovations. At one point on the tour, in just the right spot, we loudly cheered “Go Pack Go!” to hear the unique echo only present when the seating bowl is not filled with boisterous fans. On the rooftop, we were standing inches below the massive video board, a spot we grew envious of the next day when fans had access to enjoy the pre-game flyover from this spot. It had rained overnight, so the tarp was on the field – a satirical nod to the minor league baseball career I’ve so graciously enjoyed these past 8 season. We were also too early for the stadium to have come alive with the front office staff’s game preparation, and so the video boards were not fired up yet. Those two minor contingencies aside, it was great experience that only further hyped us for the next day’s game.
Before skipping ahead to the game, it’s important to mention we weren’t the only Yorkers who made the trip. When we got back to the hotel, I walked into the lobby only to pass my high school Athletic Director and his Ravens fan cohorts. What are the chances, right? A little later that evening, we were barhopping around town and bumped into two different business owners from York, at different stops. A fun coincidence to add some fervor to the tales of the trip.
After a long night of fun in Green Bay, and too little sleep, we got up early again so we could make it to the all-inclusive VIP tailgate party we purchased tickets for at the Hall of Fame Chophouse. We Ubered to the restaurant, waited in line, and finally exchanged our tickets for a Tyvek event wristband and a hand stamp. Now we could enjoy the two-and-a-half hours of all-you-can-eat and drink hospitality. There was a large tent with kerosene heaters in the parking lot adjacent to the main hall inside the restaurant with football fans spilling throughout. We went straight for the food, as we needed some nourishment to help overcome the sleep deprivation and give us energy for warmth. The first thing I noticed was the buns were rock hard and stale – obviously not a good look! (If that were to ever happen at PeoplesBank Park, I’d be extremely embarrassed!) So I went with the carb-cutters approach and loaded up a plate with a burger, a brat, some potato salad, and a cookie – it was fairly similar to the food we serve in the Home Run Patio and Bullpen Balcony areas at Revs games. We ate, grabbed some beers and wandered around. The guest of honor for the day was Packers receiver Antonio Freeman, who played back in the Brett Favre era and I remember watching as a kid. I didn’t want to pay $25 for an autographed picture I wouldn’t have been able to protect through a football game, so I didn’t get to meet him, which is somewhat unfortunate, but I’ll survive. But it was another reminder of how great it is for Revs fans to have such easy access to the players in York. We had a couple plates of food and enjoyed a couple of beers before we decided to head to the stadium so we could settle in for the pre-game ceremony, which included a special fly-over featuring F-18’s from North Carolina.
I was not prepared for just how cool the game day experience is in Green Bay. I’ve heard it said time and again that the entire town shuts down for games, but seeing is believing, and I can now appreciate it. There was a sprawling mass of people, as far as the eye could see, with foot traffic flowing like cars through Time Square during rush hour, one massive blur of green and yellow with the occasional purple mixed in. Parking lots with RV’s and flag poles, lawns with 15’ inflatables, busy sidewalks and restaurants packed to the gild with football fans enjoying themselves tailgating. There’s a line of houses across the street from the stadium that looks like an average suburban neighborhood in York County, except this one features tricked out party houses that cost quadruple their value simply because of their close proximity to Lambeau Field. They have intricate decks with large grills, turf field mats and goalposts, outdoor heaters and even TV’s in the back yards. I immediately filed this away onto the top of my “If I ever win the lottery, this is what I’m buying” list. The three-block journey on foot to the stadium entrance was full of anxious excitement for the day’s game. Fans everywhere shared the same excitement, and there were some seriously unique wardrobes at which I couldn’t help but stare. We entered the stadium, found a bathroom and then a beer vendor and headed to our seats.
We had the invaluable aisle seats – clutch! Our neighbors behind us were all Ravens fans from Baltimore. In front of us was a wild crew of women – a mother and daughter with their sister/aunt tagging along – and a young couple, the male of which had just returned from a tour abroad in the Army. To our right was a pair of sisters about my age who were very nice Wisconsinites enjoying the game while their husbands were deer hunting. Seeing the stadium alive with fans, players, and coaches on the field and the full A/V production up and running was a sight to behold. At one point I took a deep breath and soaked it all in – I was FINALLY at Lambeau Field for a Packers game.
The only problem with working in sports, however, is when you go to other live sporting events you can’t stop picking out and assessing all the promotions, sponsorship delivery, music choices, and on-field presentation elements. I did my best to stay in the moment as a fan, but the sports professional in me also grew very appreciative of how well the production team produced content that flowed seamlessly together. Eventually the teams were introduced and came running out the tunnel. Next, we stood for the anthem and were treated to a spectacular flyover. I’ve seen these on TV, but this was the first time I was able to enjoy one in person. HOLY COW! Those F-18’s weren’t just going fast; the noise went straight through your bones – so cool! The captains met a mid-field for the coin-flip, and then the teams lined up for kick-off.
Unfortunately, there weren’t many highlights for a Packers fan that day, as they went on to get shutout by the Ravens behind Brett Hundley’s several interceptions. I did get to see a Clay Matthews sack and subsequent celebration in-person, so that was neat. We ended up chatting with all of our neighbors, carrying on, and eventually becoming Facebook friends with a few. After the game, we ventured over to the newly built Johnsonville Tailgate Zone to commiserate with the others fans. While the game itself was a bummer, nothing could ruin the memories I had made that day. It was truly a spectacular fan experience from start to finish. To work in sports myself, and finally get to see the mecca of professional football, it was truly a “Best Day Ever.” I can’t wait to go back!
– Reed Gunderson, Director of Hospitality & Group Sales