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At Green Bay's Lambeau Field, a different kind of football reigns supreme for a weekend

The view of Lambeau Field from a skybox.
Maayan Silver
The view of Lambeau Field from a skybox.

A different kind of football is taking over the home of the Green Bay Packers this weekend. For the first time ever, Lambeau Field welcomes two of the world's top soccer teams.

Two renowned beasts of teams

Taking the field are FC Bayern Munich, the most successful team in German history and Manchester City, or Man City for short, the reigning English Premier League champions.

Many fans in Wisconsin are crossover fans, cheering both the Packers and various soccer teams.
Maayan Silver
Many fans in Wisconsin are crossover fans, cheering both the Packers and various soccer teams.

Bayern is on a preseason Audi Summer Tour, during which they stopped in Washington D.C. to play D.C. United. Manchester City played an earlier game in Houston against Club América.

The game on Saturday, July 23, in Green Bay is the first international soccer game ever played at Lambeau. Green Bay’s football stadium isn’t big enough for a regulation-size soccer field. But the approximately 81,000-seat stadium is expected to be at or near capacity.

The Packers already have an international, almost cult, following. But the reach of these soccer teams is next level, says Gabrielle Dow, vice president of marketing and fan engagement for the Packers.

“If you look at any of their social platforms, Man City and Bayern, Bayern has, I think five Twitter accounts and four of them are different languages. They might even have more, I just didn't discover them,” says Dow. “They speak internationally to different communities and different languages. And that's fairly impressive.”

Bayern Munich boasts more than 33 million Instagram followers versus the Packers cool 2.5 million instagram followers.

A legendary and beloved stadium

Goals have been put up. Yard lines redrawn.

But Packer fans like Nathan Ambrosius want anyone coming to Lambeau to know it’s hallowed ground and that seeing a game there is magical. “It is! When you walk into that stadium, November. Cold. Snowing. You’re bundled to the gills. There's nothing you can compare it to. You can't beat it.”

The Packers infiltrate all areas of life in Green Bay, from the street names, titled after former star coaches like Vince Lombardi and Mike Holmgren, to the green and gold fire hydrants and trash receptacles.

The Packers have won 13 league championships, the most in NFL history.

Lambeau Field tour guide Randy Fondow shares the story behind one of the paintings in the stadium.
Maayan Silver
Lambeau Field tour guide Randy Fondow shares the story behind one of the paintings in the stadium.

“For the city of Green Bay, like I think most people would probably agree, we wouldn't be on a lot of maps if we didn't have the Packers,” says Brian Buntman of Green Bay. “They really are literally what puts us on the map. And it is a very cool experience for the international community to learn about Wisconsin, about Green Bay.”

This Saturday night, in markedly warmer weather, the arena opens its gridiron and carefully coiffed grass turf to international football.

Generating local excitement

Green Bay locals, Buntman, who's a Man City fan, and Bayern Munich fan Ethan Ahnen are already fans of both the Packers and their respective European football teams. Buntman's decked out in a powder blue Man City jersey, and Ahnen has donned a fire red Bayern shirt.

Green Bay football and soccer fans (L to R) Brian Buntman, Ethan Ahnen and Alexander Alberts are thrilled to have the exhibition match at Lambeau.
Maayan Silver
Green Bay football and soccer fans (L to R) Ethan Ahnen, Brian Buntman, and Alexander Alberts are thrilled to have the exhibition match at Lambeau.

They're at the classic Green Bay watering hole called "The Bar." It's the type of place that's standing room only after a Packers game, as fans listen to live music and slosh back beers either to celebrate a win or numb the pain of a loss.

This July afternoon, the atmosphere is decidedly more mellow, and Ahnen reflects that the exhibition game is a dream come true.

“It never crossed my mind ever that any soccer teams would come here from Europe. Every year they come to the U.S., but they always say like, L.A., Chicago, New York, ones with like MLS stadiums in it,” Ahnen laughs.

"I am super excited for [the game]," adds Buntman. "I think it's a cool opportunity to get people excited about soccer in Wisconsin and Green Bay Area. And I think that people will enjoy it. And I think this can go pretty far to help grow the sport of soccer in America."

Some people from Green Bay will be drawn to the game out of curiosity, says Ahnen. “My family doesn't watch soccer, but they're all coming. Because they just want to see like this big historical event. And they're not gonna know what to do. They're just gonna be like, ‘Oh, woo! yeah, he kicked the ball, nice,” chuckles Ahnen.

According to Danny Condiff, a Milwaukee Man City fan, some avid NFL fans don't like soccer because it doesn't score 40 points a game. He was at the Highbury Pub with other members of Milwaukee's Man City fan club, the Cream Cityzens.

“But, as a fan of both,” he says. “I can really appreciate that soccer is like a very fluid game, it doesn't get stopped every 30 seconds for commercials and it takes an hour and a half to finish.”

WUWM's Maayan Silver speaks with soccer fans at the Highbury Pub in Bay View and the Bavarian Bierhaus.

Erika Bezue, who was also at the Highbury, has had to go to Chicago to see high-profile matches like this. She is especially excited to see the game because she says it's not too often you get to see two quality teams like this on Wisconsin soil.

Green Bay's deep-seeded love for the Packers resonates with international football fans

“When I was abroad, I would see people wearing Packers’ apparel. And I was like, 'Oh, maybe they got it secondhand,'" says Alexander Alberts.

He's with Ahnen and Buntman at the Bar in Green Bay. Alberts is fluent in German and will be translating for one of the Bayern delegations. He explains what it’s like to be from a place that has a storied, Super Bowl winning, NFL team in a place that is not necessarily flashy or attention-grabbing.

"You know, maybe they have no idea what it is [the Packers]," he continues. "But I'd speak to it... and then they would they'd be like, ‘Yeah, I love them. They're my favorite team.’ And I was like, ‘I'm from Green Bay!’”

Alberts says he couldn't believe there are fans in Berlin, Germany of the Packers. "Because I feel like because we have such a small population, because we're such a humble team, we're kind of insignificant, almost. But despite those things, we still have this global presence.”

The unwavering love that people in Green Bay have for the Packers matches the dedication of international football fans to their teams, observes Man City superfan Nigel Gregory.

He’s flown into the U.S. for Man City’s preseason tour and has seen the team play in 39 different countries and 15 states.

"[Packers fandom] sounds similar to the way football takes over people's lives in England," says Gregory. Except there's usually more than one team to root for, he says. "The interesting thing in England is there's generally two big [soccer] clubs in each city. Most of the major cities have got that rivalry."

Sizable economic impact, tourist attraction for Green Bay

Tourists from around the U.S. and the world are interested in seeing someplace new. Nigel Gregory, the Man City fan from England, says he wants to experience a different culture and relax and just enjoy the football. "At the end of the day, win, lose or draw, it's been all about experiencing another environment, another country, another city,” he says.

One thing that outsiders can expect from Green Bay is a good tailgate. Brad Toll of Discover Green Bay proudly exclaims that Lambeau is known for extraordinary cookouts with thousands and thousands of people.

He says it's all about the camaraderie, regardless of which team you support. "It's not uncommon for someone to just start talking with a group," Toll says. "Pretty soon, [someone says] ‘Oh, you want a brat? Here, we've got this!’ and they're eating cheese curds because they've never tried cheese curds. ‘Oh, you’ve gotta try those, here, we’ve got those!’

Toll says Green Bay's history goes back to 1634. "The Packers started in 1919. So, historically, the Packers are actually kind of young."

He notes one of the area's big draws is that it's on the water, a literal bay. "So outdoor recreation is a huge part of life in the Green Bay area. We've got a vibrant art scene, craft breweries, wineries, there's live music."

Toll notes the average Packers game has a $15 million impact on the surrounding community — and he expects this soccer game to pull in at least $10 million for the local economy.

One step forward for soccer

Soccer is picking up in Green Bay. There are many leagues to choose from and a Division 1 NCAA soccer program. At a park not far from Lambeau Field, Sarah Lueschow was cheering on her seven year old at a recreational soccer game.

“I get it, we’re Green Bay, Wisconsin, we’re Packers all day,” says Lueschow. Yet she’s thinking about bringing her kids to this first-ever event. “To know that they could go to that same arena and see a soccer match of professional soccer players. I think that's so cool. It gives me goosebumps.”

While a lot of the fans may be neutrals, or seeing the match just for fun, there could still be a healthy dose of competition involved.

“I would say since Aaron Rodgers is a Man City fan, I think we're going to get a good contention of City fans out there from Green Bay, from Wisconsin,” says Milwaukee Man City fan Dax Odom. “I mean, I kind of feel like if you're a Rodgers fan and you support Bayern, you should rethink your position.”

Members of the Cream Cityzens, Milwaukee's Man City fan club, gather at the Highbury Pub in Bay View.
Maayan Silver
Members of the Cream Cityzens, Milwaukee's Man City fan club, gather at the Highbury Pub in Bay View.

Meanwhile, outside the Bavarian Bierhaus at Bavarian Soccer Club practice, coach Patrick Hodgkins says he’s a Bayern fan because the team has dominated the premier German soccer league or “Bundesliga” over the last 10 years. He says they’re fun to watch and has fighting words: “They play soccer the right way."

Wisconsin has a strong German tradition, including the Bavarian Bierhaus and the Bavarian Soccer Club in Milwaukee.
Maayan Silver
Wisconsin has a strong German tradition, including the Bavarian Bierhaus and the Bavarian Soccer Club in Milwaukee.

Whether your average fan at the game will be invested enough to agree, Alexander Alberts, who's translating for one of the Bayern delegations, had this to say: "Put it this way. If soccer can make it in Green Bay, Wisconsin in the United States it can make it anywhere in this country. So, it’s kind of a test to that."

The collage of voices of soccer fans includes Manchester City Fans Kyle Charters, Courtney Charters and Chris Stuper at the Highbury Pub; and two Bayern Munich supporters Patrick Hodgkins and Tom Zaiss at the Bavarian soccer fields.

Maayan is a WUWM news reporter.
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