Turer: New Admirals owner a key figure in Milwaukee sports
By Gregg Hoffmann
Harris Turer describes himself as a "huge sports fan." The 39-year-old owner of Hometown Property Management in the Milwaukee area now finds himself as one of a new breed of sports franchise owners in a changing marketplace.
Turer, a member of the Brewers' ownership team since the Selig days, remained as part of the new ownership group, headed by L.A. investor Mark Attanasio. On May 17, a group headed by Turer is expected to be approved by the American Hockey League as the new owner of the Milwaukee Admirals' franchise.
Attanasio and other well-known businessmen are part of Turer's Admirals group. Turer spoke recently with WisBusiness.com writer Gregg Hoffmann.
Hoffmann: You've emerged on the Milwaukee sports scene rather recently. Some people don't know your background before that. Can you tell us a little about it?
Turer: I graduated from UW-M in 1988 (in business) and started out working for the Great Circus Parade and Ben Barkin in a volunteer job. During that course of time, I met some influential members of our community which led to a job over at what was then Firstar Bank. I worked in their management training program for over three years. Then I became part owner of a restaurant of a Café Knickerbocker. During that time, I wanted to get into something else.
I spoke with a couple of friends who I have a great deal of respect for. They told me, 'Harris, you should look at real estate. You like investments.' I was looking for something where I could have some flexibility. I was going to have a family and I wanted something where I could spend time with my family and still have a business. I spent some time with a man named Scott Blake, who had Blake Capital. I started to venture into the real estate world and bought a couple properties (apartment and residential developments). I have been running them now since 1995.
Hoffmann: So how does a real estate guy get into sports ownership?
Turer: During that same bit of time, the stadium debate was going on with the Brewers. That became such an ugly and sad battle. I was not even involved with the organization at the time, but I'll never forget the night that they battled for the stadium at the Legislature. A guy named Joe Wineke was hiding in his office and they couldn't find him. It told you a lot about how politics work in this state, or anywhere for that matter.
I was watching on TV and listening on my hand held radio, and tears literally were streaming down my face. I really thought baseball was done in Milwaukee. I was newly married. I really thought if I ever have children I'll never be able to bring them to a ballgame. They'll never see baseball. And that was an important part of my relationship with my father.
During that time, I started making overtures to Bud (Selig) through an attorney, and finally the opportunity came up to join the ownership group, which I was just thrilled by. Being such a huge fan, and because of my age, I remember in the late '70s when things really got kicking in gear when we got Sal Bando, Larry Hisle and Mike Caldwell. We had such a great team, and it was so exciting. Then '82 came around and it was so special. Being part of the ownership of that franchise was so exciting for me.
Over time, I built up my ownership share of the Brewers and became more involved as a member of the board of directors.
Hoffmann: So when do the Admirals enter the picture?
Turer: Over a year ago, I got to know Fran Croak through my involvement with the Brewers. I can't remember exactly what led to talking about the Admirals, but we did. We started to discuss things, but at the time the Brewers were for sale. I didn't know if I would be part of a new ownership team, or kick in more dollars to be part of it. So at that moment I decided I was going to have to wait and put off any more discussions.
The Admirals had another deal that was starting to cook. I thought things were done on that front. Then, I came back from a vacation, and a friend called and told me that the Admirals' deal had fallen through. So I called Fran. He told me, 'I don't know how you heard it, but it's true.' The Brewers' sale was winding down, and all the ducks seemed to be lined up in a row.
I wanted to get to know Mark (Attanasio). When you are investing that kind of money with somebody you don't know – not to mention somebody you do know – it is a very difficult decision. But, we met a couple times and went out to dinner. I felt very comfortable where he was going to take the organization and what he wanted to do. I was impressed with his intelligence and leadership qualities, so I moved on.
The group (Admirals' buyers) started out somewhat different than what you see now, but over the last month the group really started to come together. We were able to get people like Mark Attanasio and the others. I thought it was very important to get these types of people, and show a commitment to the Admirals and Milwaukee. It helped show this was a serious offer.
Hoffmann: You surprised people a little when you plucked Jon Greenberg from the Brewers' PR to be president.
Turer: I felt that to be successful we had to have a president in place. I wanted to be here and bring a lot to then table, but we needed someone who could take care of the day to day responsibilities. I thought if we brought in the right person he and I could work together and make this a success.
I have known Jon for a long time, not only because of my Brewers connection but his wife (Shannon) works for me. I was always impressed with Jon's work ethic and how well-respected he was. He's such a great guy. So, I figured if we can get Jon this deal will work.
I knew I was taking him away from something he loved, and I loved too. So I gave him a chance to think about it. About a week or so went by, and he had a chance to think about it and talk with his wife, and on the night that UW-M was going to go to the Sweet 16 he called and said,'I think this is going to be a pretty good day for you because I'm coming on board. I'm your guy.' I could not have been happier. I think if Jon had not taken the job the deal would not have come together.
Hoffmann: What translates over from your business background into this business?
Turer: I don't know if the real estate business translates over, but my involvement with the Brewers and my opportunity to meet people like Rick Schlesinger and Bob Quinn and many others. I learned a lot. Since those guys have come on board, things have really changed with the Brewers. We want to do some of those same things with our fans, sponsors and customers here.
I'm also a huge sports fan. I'm a pure sports fan, a Milwaukee sports fan, a Wisconsin sports fan. I think that translates over. I love sports like the fans do. I remember going to Admirals games as a kid. Now, I'm bringing my son (Brandon) to games.
Hoffmann: So what do you have to do to start rebuilding the Admirals off the ice?
Turer: I don't think people think about the Admirals any more, other than our loyal core fans. A lot of people always say, 'Well, you have to have a good product to draw fans.' We won the Calder Cup last year, and while there was a slight increase in attendance (to around 4,800 a game) this season, it wasn't that much. I think a lot of that has to do with a loss of connection to the community. It's not just the hockey community, but the whole community. I remember when a Admirals game was a very popular thing to go to.
Hockey has grown at a lot of levels since then. We need to tap into that. I view that as an opportunity to reach out and bring the community back.
I believe we have a fan base to start from. People have responded in the short time since we made the announcement. We've had people thank us for saving their team. People hugged us on the first night after we announced the deal and asked for our autographs. I was just stunned by that kind of reaction. We're going to reach out to them.
Hoffmann: I assume you are not starting with a debt since the team was owned by the Pettit trust?
Turer: There is no debt with this franchise. It's good to start on level ground rather than from a hole.
Hoffmann: What about the situation with the NHL and the fact a full season was blown away?
Turer: I think our affiliation with Nashville will be very important over the long haul and I hope we have a long relationship. Craig Leipold (owner of the Nashville Predators NHL team) has been very helpful. The way Nashville wants to build its team, not unlike the Brewers in baseball, the farm system is very important. That is good for us. That means we'll have good players here. It's good to be linked to an organization that wants a strong farm system.
I still think having the NHL team come back would be a positive for hockey in general. For the overall good of hockey, it's better if the premier product in hockey is playing.
Hoffmann: What about the Bradley Center? Is it adequate for the Admirals?
Turer: It was built for hockey. It's a great hockey facility. We have no interest in playing anywhere else. If they want to make updates to things I'd be all for it. We love it here. Jane Pettit built this place. This is Jane Pettit's team.
Hoffmann: Milwaukee has had a very stable sports ownership structure in place for a long time. Now it's going through a transition. How does it feel to be part of that, to be part of the passing of the baton so to say?
Turer: It's a tremendous honor, not only for the Brewers but now with the Admirals. Obviously, you do take on a higher profile in the community. The response has been so tremendous and rewarding. Not only to buy the team, but to have people support you and be excited for you is very gratifying. We have a lot of work to do, but it's very exciting.
--Gregg Hoffmann has covered Milwaukee sports since the 1970s. He writes the WisBiz In-Depth column for WisBusiness.com and covers business and politics for WisBusiness.com and Wispolitics.com.