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‘Match made in heaven’: Packers acquire rights to iconic Cheesehead

Cheesehead's origins date back to 1987 after founder reupholstered his mother's couch

Different types of finished cheeseheads
Some of the different types of finished cheeseheads can be seen in the retail space at the Foamation building in Milwaukee, Wisc. Maureen McCollum/WPR

Anyone who’s attended a professional football game at Lambeau Field — or watched one on television — is likely familiar with the Cheesehead, a foam hat in the shape of a block of cheese. But the Green Bay Packers have never owned the rights to produce the dairy-inspired headwear.

That is, until this week when the team announced it acquired Foamation Inc., the company responsible for creating the iconic Cheesehead, along with a variety of other specialty foam products.

The Milwaukee-based company was founded by Ralph Bruno in 1987. Bruno first wore a Cheesehead to a Milwaukee Brewers game after coming up with the idea while reupholstering his mother’s couch. He burned holes in the foam to make it look like Swiss cheese and painted it yellow to resemble cheddar.

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The headwear took off, igniting a Wisconsin sports tradition eventually becoming synonymous with Packers fans, often referred to as Cheeseheads.

But the Packers aren’t the only Wisconsin sports team to embrace the dairy-inspired headwear. In fact, whenever a member of the Brewers hits a home run this year, they don a Cheeshead as they celebrate in the team’s dugout.

After over three decades of growing Foamation, Bruno and his wife, Sue, were ready for a change. They contacted the Packers, the largest purchaser of their products, to help determine the future of the company. Those discussions eventually led to the Packers acquiring Foamation from the Brunos.

“After many years of working with family and friends to build the Cheesehead brand, we are pleased to pass it on to the Green Bay Packers,” Bruno said in a statement. “We have had a very special relationship with the Packers over the years, and my wife, Sue, and I are both very excited about what the Packers can do with the Cheesehead going forward.”

At a press conference Monday, Bruno described the brand going to the Packers as a “match made in heaven.”

The Packers say the team hopes to continue growing the brand, and has pledged to keep production of Cheeseheads — and related foam products — in Wisconsin.

“With the Cheesehead foam products already being manufactured in Wisconsin, it just made sense for us to continue those relationships to create a greater assortment of products, whether that is new items that are foam-related that haven’t maybe been seen before, or bringing back some of the older models that Ralph had created years ago,” said Chrysta Jorgensen, director of retail for the Packers.

Peter Carstensen, a retired law professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and self-described “antitrust hawk,” said he didn’t see any real antitrust issues based on the team’s announcement.

“Use of the Cheesehead is a copyrighted or trademarked right of the present producers, which would go then to the Packers, so that nobody else could make Cheeseheads,” he said. “What we’re observing is the transfer of that entitlement from one owner to another, and it does not foreclose people coming up with all kinds of other sports memorabilia.”

Jorgensen said the team has worked closely with the Brunos for years to produce Cheesehead merchandise with the Packers’ logo on it. But that required navigating licensing rights to both the logo and Cheesehead, and getting approval from the NFL.

“Now we’ll be able to manage that for the team,” she said. “But then also we can certainly use that to our advantage as far as having custom and exclusive products available to the Packers Pro Shop and Packers fans.”

Jorgensen also said the Packers want to continue the legacy that the Brunos started with the creation of the original Cheesehead.

“We certainly have a special relationship with them, as they have with us, and we’re very excited to wish them well in retirement and what is next for them,” she said. “We know that having a small business for the last 30 years is certainly (something) they put a lot of effort into, and our goal is to continue to operate this portion of our business in a way that would make them proud.”