Brewer vendors can finally exhale

If you didn’t know him, and Mark Attanasio walked up to you on the street and introduced himself as the manager of a drycleaner’s store in Greenfield or an accountant in Port Washington, you’d have no reason to doubt him.
That’s the kind of unassuming persona Attanasio projected when he introduced himself as the next owner of the Milwaukee Brewers in an Oct. 4 press conference at Miller Park. Attanasio is no George Steinbrenner. Heck, he’s not even a Peter Angelos.
But that’s a good thing.
The next owner of the Brewers appears to walk softly and carry a big stick. A big, expensive stick.
Unlike the new owners of many professional sports franchises, Attanasio has no plans to clean house in Milwaukee and put his personal stamp on the Brewers, just because he can.
And that’s good news for the folks already working along Miller Park Way.
In keeping with his low-key style, Attanasio intends to keep the ballclub’s core management team in place. Attanasio said general manager Doug Melvin and manager Ned Yost will continue to oversee the baseball operations, and executive vice president for business operations Rick Schlesinger and chief financial officer Robert Quinn will continue to oversee the business operations of the team.
Attanasio said his decision to keep the Brewers’ management in place wasn’t made just because he’s a nice guy. He arrived at his decision after extensive due diligence with other owners and executives in Major League Baseball who told him that the Brewers’ brass is going about its business in the right way.
"On the business side and the baseball side, we already have a strong management team who are doing things the right way," Attanasio said. "Rick Schlesinger and Bob Quinn definitely will continue on with the team, and the people who report to them (also will be retained) … On the business side, there are a lot of good things going on."
As a business manager, Attanasio said he is a "delegator" by nature and tends to hire solid people and then hold them accountable for their performance.
The 46-year-old Yankee fan grew up in the Bronx, but said he intends to move to Milwaukee and become active in the community.
Attanasio is the group managing director and chief investment officer of U.S. below investment grade fixed income for the TCW Group Inc. in West Los Angeles. In addition, he is a director of TCW Asset Management Co. and the Brown University Third Century Fund.
The sale of the Brewers still requires the approval of other Major League Baseball owners, who will meet in November after the World Series to vote on the transaction.
When Attanasio announced he will keep the current management team in place, dozens of Milwaukee-area businesses collectively exhaled.
The team has contracts with several local companies that provide various products and services to the Brewers and Miller Park.
Firms such as E & Co., a Milwaukee marketing and communication design company, have long-term relationships with the Brewers that could have been fractured had Attanasio decided to clean house and bring in new business managers.
"One nice thing about the Brewers in the past has been their loyalty. This is my 11th year with them," said Ellen Homb, founder and president of e & Co., which designs the Brewers’ game programs and other promotional items.
"We feel as though we are part of their staff, as if we are part of their team, rather than an outside vendor. We were all a little nervous. For me and the rest of the vendors, it’s a sigh of relief, and it’s a chance to prove ourselves to the new guy," Homb said. "Those of us who work hard and do a good job will keep our jobs. And that’s the way it should be."
Attanasio and a small pool of local investors will pay about $220 million for the team, according to the sources.
That price tag surprised some people in Major League Baseball circles and some independent analysts.
After all, the Anaheim Angels, playing in a much larger market with much more in local media revenues, were sold by the Walt Disney Co. to Phoenix businessman Arturo Moreno last year for "only" $182.5 million after they had been on the market for four years.
"The Angels have a bigger market, true (well, half of one, anyway), but the Brewers have a sweetheart stadium lease to end all leases, 70 luxury suites, etc. Having corporate amenities at your disposal for the next 30 years does count for something. They (the Brewers) also own 36 percent of Miller Park, for whatever that’s worth; the Angels are renters," said Neil deMause, co-author of "Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money Into Private Profit" (Common Courage Press).
"My guess is that Moreno underpaid a bit for the Angels, and Attanasio’s overpaying a bit for the Brewers. But if he can turn the team around and put the fannies in the $40 seats, the Brewers do have plenty of upside from an owner’s perspective," said deMause, who operates a companion Web site, www.fieldofschemes.com, and contributes to the www.baseballprospectus.com baseball analysis Web site.
Schlessinger, who previously worked in the Angels’ front office before returning to Milwaukee, acknowledged that he was surprised about how quickly three capable and interested bidders stepped up to the plate to buy the Brewers.
Schlessinger said the Brewers had several assets that made them an attractive target, including Miller Park, a loyal fan base that generated more than 2 million in attendance in yet another losing season, a strong farm system and Major League Baseball’s increased shared revenue plan.
"I watched for four years while the Angels were for sale. But this is a baseball market. I can tell you, at Anaheim, we struggled to draw 2 million," said Schlessinger, who’s first item of business now is to convince local corporations to renew their luxury suites at Miller Park. Having a new ownership team with deeper pockets should help that cause.
"I look at baseball economics, revenue sharing. All these things Major League Baseball is doing nationally and internationally are helping markets like Milwaukee."
None too soon.
Alas, Bud and Wendy Selig now can ride off into the sunset. One can hope that the sting of all the arrows, barbs and slurs that have been hurled their way in recent years will lose their edge as time goes by. After all, 30 years from now, only two things will matter: The Seligs brought Major League Baseball back to Milwaukee, and the Seligs kept Major League Baseball in Milwaukee.
That’s quite a legacy.
Steve Jagler is executive editor of Small Business Times. You can reach him at (414)
277-8181, ext. 116, or at steve.jagler@biztimes.com.
Ocober 15, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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Christine McMahon
Christine McMahon advances business growth by empowering people with the insights and tools they need to improve personal productivity, speed of execution, and profitability. Engagements can include: Keynote Presentations, Executive Coaching, Sales | Leadership Training and Coaching. She is co-founder of the Leadership Institute at Waukesha County Technical College’s Center for Business Performance Solutions.