The Green Bay Packers' 2017 regular-season schedule was released April 20. Sarah Kloepping/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
GREEN BAY – Fans and business owners agree the Green Bay Packers' 2017 schedule has some challenges, but it isn't the worst they've seen.
"The schedule is better than last year by far. There's more balance to it," said Jay Bushmaker, a season-ticket holder in the Twin Cities, thinking back to 2016's stretch of five home games in seven weeks, followed by three consecutive road games. That said, playing Seattle, Atlanta (in the launch of its new stadium) and Dallas in the first five weeks, and three road games in December, wouldn't have been his first choice.
The release of the Packers' schedule is a big deal in Green Bay, the NFL's smallest market. Police, concession workers, bars and restaurants, homeowners who park cars in their yards, potential brides and many others analyze days, dates and times closely.
Everyone agrees the marquee game of the regular season will be Week 1, on Sept. 10 against Seattle at Lambeau Field. The Seahawks are a Packers rival and their fans travel well.
"The return of Eddie Lacy really spices things up. We're getting a lot of inquiries about that one," said Dennis Garrity of Event USA in Ashwaubenon.
There are several improvements over last year, said Jim Kratowicz, chief operating officer of Titletown Brewing Co. in Green Bay. The NFL moved the Christmas weekend games to Saturday instead of Christmas Eve and the Packers don't have four straight home games early in the season, followed by most of November on the road.
The Packers have two ticket packages. Green with six regular-season games and Gold with two. Gold Package games are always the second and fifth home games. The Packers do it that way so they do not favor one package over the other. But random chance has tested Gold Package fans, many of whom are from southeastern Wisconsin, by giving them night games on a regular basis. This year the schedule doubles down with a Monday night game against Detroit.
Bill Wenzel of Titletown Tickets & Tours in Ashwaubenon said noon games sell best overall.
"We get a lot of people who drive from say Iowa and Chicago and Milwaukee. They like when it's a noon game and they can go home," he said. "Games in October are pretty good for us. The game against New Orleans (Oct. 22) is probably one of the most attractive times of the year and time of the day. People like to come with the leaves changing and the weather decent."
Kratowicz is not wild about another Thursday night game against the Bears. Garrity and Wenzel are more optimistic. If there has to be a Thursday game, the Bears are a good choice, they said, but Kratowicz is concerned fans will drive up late and not stick around after. Like most restaurant and bar owners, he prefers 3:25 p.m. games, because they mean business before and after.
Andy Diehl is not a season-ticket holder, but expects to attend two or three games at Lambeau Field and one or two on the road. Pittsburgh and Cleveland are among his bucket list stadiums — he's trying to get to all 32 — but thinks a Thanksgiving weekend game in Pittsburgh will be expensive and a December game in Cleveland is, well, a December game in Cleveland. He may opt for Minnesota's new stadium instead.
Diehl said night games in Green Bay are tough — he lives in Kohler — but also can be cheaper than noon games.
"I think if you look back, a noon game vs. a lesser opponent is more expensive than a Monday night game against someone like the Seahawks," even if the night game means taking a day or two off work, he said.
Bushmaker will go to five Lambeau games, the game in Minnesota and to Pittsburgh for "Sunday Night Football."
"I prefer afternoon and night games," he said. "Traveling back home from Green Bay ... I don't usually get to town until later Saturday, so it's nice to have the later start instead of getting out to the stadium district by 8 or 9 in the morning for a noon game."
Justin Gundelach, who lives in Rochester, Minn., said it's always a challenge to get to a game, and schedulers often make the decision for him. This year, he's narrowed it down to three, one in Minneapolis and two at Lambeau.
"If I were to come to a game in 2017, and not miss time at work or the deer stand, my only options are weeks 6, 13 and 16," he said. "My goal right now is to get to the Week 6 game and one of the other two."
As a Packers fan in far-enough-off Henderson, Ky., Dillon Oakley is glad to see so many prime-time games because he'll be able to watch them on TV. He plans to attend at least one game at Lambeau Field, the Packers and Ravens matchup on Nov. 19.
"It is a noon game, which works out better for me since I live 10 hours away," he said. "It allows me to get home the same day as the game."
He's also considering the Sept. 17 game in Atlanta, which is about half the distance from Henderson as is Green Bay.
The schedule could be worse, Wenzel said. It could be all noon games.
"If you've got a lot of noon games, you're not a very good team," he said.
» Packers host Baltimore on Nov. 19, the second day of the deer hunting season.
» Five of the first eight games are at Lambeau Field. Five of the final eight are on the road, including three of the last four.
» Lambeau Field will host two games in four days, Sept. 24 against Cincinnati and Sept. 28 against Chicago.
» Gold Package fans once again get a 7:30 p.m. game, "Monday Night Football" vs. Detroit on Nov. 6.