WisBiz In-Depth: Brewers profit from break-even season

By Gregg Hoffmann

MILWAUKEE – Breaking even on the field has led to a profit for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2005.

Although exact figures have not been released, the 2.2 million fans who went through the turnstiles at Miller Park this season did net the Brewers a profit. The 81-81 mark – which broke a string of 12 losing seasons — also has excited fans and should help the Brewers sell tickets over the winter.

“Witnessing this excitement were over 2.2 million fans at Miller Park—close to a 10 percent increase in attendance over last year and the third highest in team history,” owner Mark Attanasio said in a season-ending statement.

“With the profits from this turnout, we can increase Major League payroll next year, allocate additional resources to develop our Minor League players, and make improvements in the ballpark.”

The Brewers’ payroll was believed to be slightly over $40 million this season. Attanasio did not give an exact figure for next season, but many speculate the team could get closer to $50 million.

Attanasio has said any increases in payroll will be justified from “a baseball standpoint,” not just a business standpoint.

Some of the payroll increase will come from keeping current players. The club is expected to pick up outfielder Carlos Lee’s option, said to be around $8.5 million. Other players who had good years will be up for a raise.

Most observers also expect the Brewers to pursue at least one starting pitcher, perhaps through free agency or a trade of first baseman Lyle Overbay.

Attanasio also said he wants to keep upgrading the overall entertainment experience at Miller Park. “As part of our ‘Best Practices’ study, I visited 11 other Major League ballparks this season and found that the fan experience at Miller Park was comparable to any,” he said. “Sports Illustrated confirmed this by recently naming the Brewers as the “Best Fan Value” in Major League Baseball. I am committed to keeping it that way.”

Some repair to the roof structure is scheduled for this off-season. Improvements to concession areas, sound systems and other amenities also are expected.

Attanasio made points with the fans by giving away tickets to the last home game on Sept. 29. A total of 30,000 tickets were given away, even though the attendance at the game was around 27,000.

There are other signs that Attanasio intends to keep momentum building on several fronts. FSN North, which carries Brewers’ games, likely will expand the number of games it shows next season. The network showed the minimum of 115 games this year, but Attanasio reportedly has pushed for more in 2006.

The club also has brought aboard a new vice-president of communications, Tyler Barnes, and vice-president of corporate marketing, Tom Hecht.

On Oct. 5, Milwaukee Admirals President Jon Greenberg, the former media relations director of the Brewers, announced that the Admirals and Brewers organizations had agreed upon a corporate partnership deal for the 2005-06 season.

In the deal, the Brewers will be the official jersey sponsor of the Admirals uniforms and will have a Brewers logo on the sweaters for all AHL regular season games as well as all Calder Cup Playoff games. Also included in the deal is dasher board advertising for the Brewers as well as an advertisement in the Admirals Official Souvenir Program and radio ads during the Ads’ game broadcasts.

“We are excited to have the Brewers as our exclusive Admirals uniform sponsor,” said Greenberg. “This ‘outside-the-box’ concept is unique within professional sports and a great opportunity for both the Brewers and the Admirals to share our branding throughout the country.”

The deal is believed to be the first time a team from one of the four major professional sports has been the official jersey sponsor for another professional sports franchise.

“This is a creative opportunity to market the Brewers through an initiative that is new to the industry,” said Brewers Executive Vice President – Business Operations Rick Schlesinger. “We already have very strong synergies with the Admirals and we see this as an extension of our efforts to work together to benefit both organizations.”

Attanasio, Brewers’ board member Harris Turer, assistant GM Gordon Ash, pitcher Ben Sheets and others with Brewers’ ties also are investors in the Admirals.

An admitted devout baseball fan, Attanasio almost gushed about his first season as owner in an open letter to the fans. “Wow, what a season! It seems as if just yesterday, I greeted the team at the opening of Spring Training in Maryvale, Arizona.,” he wrote.

“With the hope that spring brings, I eagerly awaited the start of the baseball season having several goals in mind: to create a winning culture on a team that had suffered through 12 losing seasons; to establish a ‘Best Practices’ standard so that uniformly excellent business operations could fund a perennially competitive team; to develop relationships with the players, management, and employees of the organization; to provide our fans with the optimal experience at Miller Park; and to remember throughout all of this to have fun. I believed we could make tangible progress in these areas this year, and that improvements in the typical objective measurements of the team’s success—wins and losses, profitability, and attendance—would follow.”

Attanasio also is an experienced businessman, who does his research and conducts quantifiable studies. “Through constant statistical updates, I learned that the Brewers are blessed with strong management on both the baseball and business sides,” he said. “Virtually everyone in the organization has an outstanding work ethic, wants to succeed, and is willing and happy to do whatever it takes to be a winner.”

The baseball operations management team was singled out by Attanasio. “Importantly, our players formed a cohesive clubhouse where they were supportive of each other, giving us terrific chemistry and a foundation for the future,” he wrote in the open letter.

“General Manager Doug Melvin, Manager Ned Yost, and Assistant General Manager Gord Ash—as well as our dedicated coaches—provided leadership, direction, and a steady hand to guide our talented ballplayers, veterans and rookies alike.”

Attanasio gushed again in his closing statements of the open letter:

”This, my rookie year as the Brewers’ principal owner, would not have been as successful without the enormous support of the community, our sponsors and marketing partners, and our employees. However, my most heartfelt thanks are reserved for you, the greatest fans anywhere, for welcoming my family and me to Milwaukee, encouraging my efforts to improve the team, and making home games such an electric experience throughout this breakthrough season. I look forward to seeing you on April 3, 2006 at Miller Park—our first home opener in a decade—against the Pirates, just 144 days from now.”