By Gregg Hoffmann
With huge crowds for the first home weekend of the season and renewed fan enthusiasm after a 2008 playoff run, Milwaukee Brewers’ owner Mark Attanasio says the team is in good shape to compete economically and on the field this season.
While remaining very cognizant of the overall economic woes, Attanasio said the Brewers and baseball in general are doing well. “We’re about 10 percent ahead of last year (with ticket sales) at this time,” he said. “It was a pleasant surprise, but I guess I should have learned by now that nothing should surprise me when it comes to the passion of Brewers fans.”
Of course, the Brewers were sold out for today’s opener, but playing the Chicago Cubs in the first home series also assured them of big crowds on Saturday and Sunday.
“Easter Weekend traditionally is a slower weekend because people are doing other things with their families,” Attanasio said Friday. “Having the Cubs in town just about assures us of having good crowds.”
Spring training attendance overall was down about 7 percent this spring, but Attanasio pointed out that was mild compared to many other businesses.
“I think I’ve said before that baseball might be recession resistant,” he said. “It has been affected, but not as much as some other businesses.”
Attanasio said the team did lose some sponsorships over the winter, but other sponsors “jumped in” to take their place. AirTran has taken over the right field picnic area. Harley-Davidson has a deck where motorcyles are displayed.
The Brewers’ payroll is right around $80 million, the highest in team history. “We wanted to send a message to our fans that we still want to compete,” he said. “Everyone in the organization wants to win. We have been fiscally prudent in how we’ve managed this team, so you can take some risk. If needed at mid-season, we could take a little more risk.”
Milwaukee traded for pitcher C.C. Sabathia at mid-season last year and went on to win the wild card berth in the post-season.
The Brewers also were picked as the MLB Retailer of the Year in 2008 and have expanded that area of their business, in part with participation of Attanasio’s wife.
“Bob Uecker likes to kid that we’ve added Prada to the retail store,” Attanasio joked, likely referring to his wife’s taste in fashion.“We like to marry the fans’ enthusiasm with business when we can. It’s great to see people wearing Brewers’ gear. The first year I was here, I saw more Packers gear out there.”