Bringing the Packers to Paradise
This story appears in the July 2014 issue of Packerland Pride magazine. Subscribe to the magazine here.
Hawaii is a place like no other. It has features no, or few at most, other locations in the world possess. As far as states go, it is not similar to any in the contiguous 48.
The sun dips into the ocean there like it’s getting into a bathtub. A giant ball of flames melting into the water, taking its time. The sun doesn’t have the slow burn of a dying bonfire in the Midwest like it does from the view on a Hawaiian island. It feels closer there, holds on longer there.
Hawaii is a paradise in many ways, a place with mystical powers whether you’re visiting, never been, or happen to call it home. It’s that unknown orb of light out there in the ocean. Far away from our version of the regular world. The water wrapping around Hawaii is the purest blue, a water-and-oil deal in that you couldn’t mix it with another color if you tried. The lush green landscapes are preserved from some other prehistoric edition of Earth, the sharp corners of a winding two-lane highway bending around a cliff’s edge, opening into vast, all-encompassing valleys of jungle out of nowhere and, off in the distance towards the water, sand spread perfectly along the coast, laid out like a blanket and stretched flat. Twenty-minute afternoon rain showers followed by sunny, breezily warm perfection.
Hawaii is a place like no other. But Hawaii is also similar to many other places in that Green Bay Packers fans live there, and where Packers fans live, they often make their proud presence known.
When John Fink accepted a job offer in Hawaii – where his parents were living – before graduating from college on the east coast, he just figured he’d take a chance, see what happens. It has been 37 years since he made that leap. He lives in Honolulu. There are probably more than a few people who, after getting there, don’t leave Hawaii. It makes sense for many reasons. But whenever someone moves they take things – memories, beliefs, interests – you can’t always pack in boxes. Some of these wither away in place of new ones in a new place, others can be strengthened or reinforced the further away you go. Fink is a native of Highland Park, Illinois, a suburb north of Chicago. Down there in Bears country he grew up a Packers fan and has been one now for over 45 years.
Fink remembers going to one Packers-Bears game at Wrigley Field in the cold. Green Bay had a big lead, Fink says, “and my father turned to me and said, ‘Let’s go.’ And I said, ‘Dad we’re not leaving until the game ends,’” Fink says. “So here I was, a Packers fan at Wrigley Field in a Packers win, and even as a kid I was a loyal guy.”
He established his fandom during a time when the Packers controlled the Green Bay-Chicago rivalry. During the Vince Lombardi era the Packers went 13-5 against the Bears. But as time went on Fink’s ties with Green Bay became stronger, rooted deeper in the team’s history and present.
“I just love the story of the Packers,” he says. “It’s the only relatively medium-to-small market in America that has a professional team like that. And in the NFL it’ll never happen again, and you could argue that the only other franchise anywhere in major American sports like that might be like Columbus, where they have the Blue Jackets and they have a pro soccer team.
“Columbus is one that’s a relatively small market comparatively. But you can count on one hand, almost one finger, how many medium and small markets there are like Green Bay. And the fact that it’s owned by the fans, or the fans are heavily involved with it, it’s just a great story.”
That’s the historical part. Presently, Fink’s involved with the Packers on the business side, too. Fink is general manager of the independent Honolulu-based television station, KFVE, otherwise known as K5 or The Home Team, and also known as a flagship affiliate station of the Green Bay Packers.
For 28 years, Fink says, KFVE was the home of University of Hawaii sports. Covering anything from football, men’s and women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s basketball, soccer, softball, and baseball, the station broadcasted between 110-120 sporting events a year.
“No team in America had more coverage than the University of Hawaii,” Fink says.
But in 2011 KFVE lost the rights to air University of Hawaii sports to a local paid-subscription-based cable company. An independent station like Fink’s isn’t tied to network programming, which provides flexibility, but still: he had airspace to fill. So Fink reached to out the Journal Broadcast Group and its Director of Network Operations, Carl Moll, who assembles the Packers Television Network.
“This will be our third or fourth year with the Packers and we will continue the relationship because it’s been a good one,” Fink says. “I am also trying to fill in holes in our August schedule with as much live sports as I can. So last year we had 14 preseason NFL games, which I think would make us the television station with the most preseason games of anybody in America.
“Obviously if you’re a network affiliate you get the three or four that you’re offered. If you’re a team affiliate, like if you’re a Packers team affiliate, you get either three or four (Packers games), which is what you’re allowed, but because there is not a coverage problem with Hawaii – teams are only allowed to cover so much of an area, they can’t go too far outside their area because they can’t reach too much of a percentage of the country because then they start encroaching on other team’s rights – because we’re in Hawaii and we’re out in the middle of the ocean, we have no territorial rights here, so we can pick up games from any teams.”
It’s the advantage of showing what you want. Over the past couple of years KFVE has picked up preseason games of the Oakland Raiders, Arizona Cardinals, New York Giants, New England Patriots, and Denver Broncos. Fink adds that the Packers “are on the top of my list.”
“I know there’s a lot of interest everywhere in the Packers, and certainly I have a personal interest as a longtime fan.”
KFVE is hoping to show between 12-14 preseason games this August, including the three they are allowed to broadcast as a true affiliate of the Packers: Aug. 9 at Tennessee, Aug. 16 at St. Louis, and Aug. 28 versus Kansas City. They cannot broadcast the Aug. 22 contest against the Oakland Raiders because it will be aired nationally on CBS.
Fink is always pushing to find more sports to show. KFVE will air college football from the ACC this fall. The NFL is still its immensely popular self in Hawaii, and the Packers are a global force, but the local timing also works with the audience.
“The beauty of a lot of the sports that we pick up is that they come here in the morning because of the time difference,” Fink says. “For example the first game against Tennessee is on a Saturday at 8 o’clock Eastern time, 7 o’clock for you, which is 2 o’clock in the afternoon here.
“So when we have our regularly scheduled NFL games, which, unfortunately as an independent we don’t get them because we’re not CBS or Fox or NBC, but the games here in the fall start at 7 a.m., so you can literally be done watching NFL doubleheaders by 1 or 1:30 here, which is great because then you’ve got the rest of the day. People here are well conditioned for it. Our ratings here are huge, like they are everywhere else, but the NFL here is a breakfast thing, not a lunch or dinner thing.”
Then, of course, there are the Packers. And the prestige that comes with being an official affiliate of the team.
“It’s nice, because the Green Bay guys, they’ll acknowledge their affiliate in Hawaii. And of course then they’re always joking on the air about, ‘Wow, we’re out in Hawaii,’ so we love it,” Fink says. “And what’s great is that a lot of the teams realize that they have, of course, fans all over the country, including in Hawaii. So not only do they reach their Hawaii fans – and there are a lot of Packers fans in Hawaii because the Packers are such a great story, that’s one of the reasons I picked them up – and they also have their fans who are tourists here and can watch the games when they’re on vacation.
“We’re certainly the furthest away, but we’re proud to be a Packers affiliate and really enjoy providing the games for people here. And you know it’s not just the local fans and the tourists. We also hear from military guys that are serving in Hawaii that obviously come from various places around the country, and they’re very appreciative that we’re bringing the Packers games in, so we’re happy to do it.”
Fink plans to continue his flagship partnership with the Packers while trying to add as many live sporting events as he can fit on the schedule. It’s a business move, one plenty of people on the islands of Hawaii enjoy as preseason, that first taste of sort-of-real football each year, kicks off.
But it comes back to that first decision he made as a boy in Illinois, to look north and cheer on the Packers through first incredibly good times, then more than a fair share of bad ones, and now with annually-renewing hope and optimism going into the 2014 season. Talking on the phone with Fink some 4,000 miles away, he is staring at a Packers cup on his desk. He is a Packers shareholder. Above the television in his office, he says, hang two items: an autographed picture of Wayne Gretzky and his Green Bay Packers stock certificate.
“It doesn’t get much better than that,” he says.
It is in these small everyday additions, the things that stay with you no matter where you end up, that can make any place feel next door to home. To us, Hawaii is one of the true wonders of the world as we’ve seen it thus far.
It isn’t the only one, though.
“When I was a kid I went to Lambeau one time,” Fink says. “It was a great experience. I’ve not been back since, but I’d love to come, time permitting, on a going-forward basis. I’d love to get back up there and cook some brats with everybody.”
Hawaii, of course, isn’t next door. And it doesn’t have Lambeau Field, or those particular brats grilled and eaten in its presence. But by proxy of KFVE, Hawaii is a sibling – or officially, an affiliate – in the Packers family. And, as Fink says, it’s really not that far away.
“People always say it’s so far away, but in my mind it’s just a few more hours on a plane. What’s the difference?”
Differences? There are a few. Packers fans in paradise, wherever and whatever you want to call that, always have one less of them.