By: Joe Strupp
The big story in northeast Wisconsin these days has been whether former Green Bay Packer legend Brett Favre should return to the team after retiring months ago.
And for the local Green Bay Press-Gazette, the ongoing battle between Favre and Packer management has been both a blessing and a curse.
For the past week, since news broke Friday that Favre had changed his mind and wanted to come back for another season, the Gannett Co. daily has seen a boost in Web traffic, reader comments, and single-copy sales, according to the paper.
But the paper’s sales of retirement-related merchandise that began in March when Favre tearfully announced his departure after 16 seasons has all but ground to a halt.
Since Favre made the overture to return to the team, Press-Gazette officials say they have had almost no interest in a string of items that have sold well in recent months, including reprints of an extra edition that was published the day he announced, copies of editions marking high-points in his career, and even a tribute book that went on sale in May.
“We were going to set up a booth at training camp to sell these items,” said Dave Sielski, single-copy manager. “This has made it difficult to sell anything, people are holding back. It has gone down to almost nothing. People do not want to buy something that is basically useless if he does come back.”
The Press-Gazette had set up a special online page for readers to buy Favre retirement-related items, including a four-newspaper package of the Extra edition and three other papers from the week he retired. That package goes for $10, Sielski said, adding that about 20,000 had been sold before this week.
He said that other original copies of papers from Super Bowl coverage and record-setting games were selling for up to $3.75 each online.
Among the most popular items was the March 4 Extra edition of the paper that had sold for $1 at the time and continued to sell well online and at the paper’s offices for $3.75.
“We had several people who had bought $1,400 and $1,500 worth of that paper at the time and turned around to sell them on eBay,” Sielski said, adding that the paper still has about 5,000 copies. “When he retired, people were gobbling them up.”
On the positive side, however, Sielski said the Favre story has driven single-copy sales up significantly. The paper bumped up its single-copy press run 15% each day from Saturday to Tuesday, he said.
Online, meanwhile, the issue has sparked a record number of reader comments at the end of stories, according to Julie Riebe, online content manager.
“While a Packers story/column would normally get anywhere from 0 to 50 comments (more often in the 20s and 30s), stories during the past week have been receiving in the hundreds,” she said in an e-mail. “The top one — actually the top two — have more than 400 comments [each], which I believe is an all-time high for us.”
The top 10 most popular Web stories and most commented upon Web stories on the site have consistently been about Favre in recent days. The paper would not release page view statistics, but Riebe revealed that the overall Web site has seen a regular increase of about 100,000 page views daily since Friday.
“There is more interest in this, from my experience, than for anything in the past,” said Riebe, who has been at the paper 10 years, and on the Web site for five years. “They have been record days.”
The paper also brought the issue to its editorial page on Thursday. While it did not take sides in the Favre-Packer dispute, it did urge both sides to remain calm and hinted that the team will survive with or without Favre.
“The team kept going when founder Curly Lambeau left; when coach Vince Lombardi departed; when the front office of multiple administrations made big mistakes; when Bart Starr threw his last pass; when Mike Holmgren left, and it will endure, over time, the departure of Brett Favre, whether it is now or next year or the year after that,” it stated.