By Gregg Hoffmann
If you look at the roster of new owners for the Milwaukee Admirals released Thursday, it looks a lot like the front office lineup of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Probably the most notable name is Mark Attanasio, the primary partner in the Brewers. He is not expected to play as prominent a role in the Admirals, but he is on the roster of Milwaukee Admirals LLC, as the new ownership is called.
Harris Turer, who has been an investor in the Brewers since the Selig days, is the principal investor in the Admirals. Assistant GM of the Brewers, Gord Ash, is also one of the Admirals new owners.
Jay Williams, chairman and owner of The PrivateBank, also is chairman of the Miller Park District Board, so he has secondary ties to the Brewers. He too is one of the new hockey team owners.
Finally, named president of the Admirals Thursday was Jon Greenberg, who started as a bat boy for the Brewers and became public relations director.
Until Thursday, about the only similarities between Milwaukee’s hockey and baseball teams were that the players used long instruments made of wood and swung them, albeit in different arcs. But, now the ownerships of the two teams have ties at the pocketbooks.
Turer, 39, who made his money in property management, said he did not want to see the Admirals fade away if the trust fund of the late Jane Bradley Pettit could not find a new owner.
I have a great love for sports within our community, said Turer, a lifetime resident of Milwaukee. The Admirals are a fantastic asset to the Milwaukee sports landscape, and I look forward, along with the rest of our ownership group, to providing an affordable and entertaining experience for fans when they visit the Bradley Center.
Turer said he remembers seeing the Admirals play as a kid. He now brings his son, Brandon, to games.
Greenberg, 37, has been the Brewers PR director since 1994. He is a 1989 graduate of UW-Milwaukee in journalism and mass communication.
This is an amazing opportunity to work with a dynamic new ownership group, Greenberg said. I am excited about what the future holds for the Milwaukee Admirals and their fans, and grateful for the legacy left by Jane Pettit since 1976.
Greenberg also will be part of the Admirals ownership structure.
The Admirals have had rather remarkable success on the ice the last two seasons considering their uncertain future off it. They won the American Hockey League championship last season and will soon enter the playoffs again.
Much of that success can be attributed to Phil Wittliff, who has held just about every position with the Admirals, from player to coach to GM to president, and coach Claude Noel. Wittliff was one of a handful of front office employees. Their futures were not directly addressed Thursday, but it is expected they will remain with the organization.
The Pettit trust fund board made it clear they wanted to sell a year ago. At first, Craig Leipold, owner of the Nashville Predators (the Admirals NHL affiliate) looked like a natural buyer, but then the NHL had a work stoppage that cost the league its entire season. Leipold might end up lucky if he still has a NHL team in Nashville.
Bill Stewart, who has played for and owned minor league hockey teams in Colorado, then became a possible buyer, but dropped out after he had problems negotiating a lease with the Bradley Center and other difficulties.
Some insiders said the asking price for the team had dropped under $3 million, but no official figure was released Thursday.
Because the trust fund board was looking to sell, they spent very little money on marketing in recent seasons. Despite winning the championship last season, the Admirals attendance plummeted. It picked up a little this season, but some major rebuilding in promotion and marketing will be needed.
The new owners are committed to keeping the Admirals in Milwaukee. We are pleased that the club is being purchased by a group that will ensure the future of Admirals hockey in Milwaukee, said Fran Croak, trustee of the Pettit Estate and governor of the Admirals. Croak will remain part of the new ownership group. Croak also served on the Brewers board when the Selig family headed that organization.
American Hockey League officials must still approve the transaction. Details also still must be worked out between the new group and the Pettit estate. But, the deal could be finalized within weeks.
Because of Greenbergs departure from the Brewers, speculation began on his successor. Bill Mendel, a longtime friend of Attanasio, handles some of his personal PR, but it is not known if he would be interested or considered for the Brewers job.
Attanasios involvement is quite interesting. In an interview with WisBusiness.com during spring training, he said he thought Milwaukee was an up and coming town and a great sports town.
The Admirals deal has signs of Attanasios touch. He has put together consortiums to acquire businesses as Group Managing Director of the Trust Company of the West in the Los Angeles area. The Brewers ownership structure has become a limited partnership with several investors from L.A. and Milwaukee since Attanasios purchase of the team was first announced.
Attanasio continues to living in L.A. He said he would come to Milwaukee during the baseball season as often as he could. Now, he also might be coming to town during the hockey season. When he does for Admirals games and meetings, he will not be among strangers.
–Gregg Hoffmann has covered the Brewers since the late 1970s and wrote about the Admirals when he lived and worked in Milwaukee. Now a resident of Westby, Hoffmann publishes Midwest Diamond Report, covering the Brewers, Cubs, White Sox and Twins at http://midwestdiamondreport.com. He also writes for WisBusiness.com and WisPolitics.com.