Brewers doing what they have to do

Commentary

Is nothing sacred anymore? I guess not. Not even for America’s national pastime.

For the second year in a row, the Milwaukee Brewers have stunned their fans with plans for an iconic name change at the ballpark.

Last year it was the Famous Racing Sausages. The Brewers surprised many when they announced Milwaukee-based Klement Sausage Co., the longtime sponsor of the sausage mascots and their in-game race, was being replaced by Sheboygan Falls-based Johnsonville Sausage, a larger company that evidently offered the Brewers a deal they could not refuse.

Many fans were upset with the switch and felt the Brewers were being disloyal to Klement’s.

But that was nothing. The Brewers recently announced a much bigger sponsorship change. Miller Park, the home of the team since 2001, will get a new name in 2021. The stadium naming rights sponsorship with MillerCoors ends after 2020, and the new sponsor will be Madison-based American Family Insurance.

The new name for the ballpark has yet to be determined. How does American Family Field sound?

A lot of Brewers fans are upset that the place where they enjoyed watching their favorite team play for almost 20 years will soon be called something else. Fans have an emotional attachment to their team’s home park, and its name is all part of that. Change is hard, especially for a cherished tradition. The link between the Brewers and Miller made so much sense.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but it’s safe to assume American Family offered the Brewers much more than MillerCoors, or anyone else, was willing to. The current naming rights deal for Miller Park was worth $40 million over 20 years. In a statement, MillerCoors said American Family made an “incredibly rich offer” to the Brewers.

Despite the disappointment fans feel about the stadium name change, the Brewers are doing the right thing.

Milwaukee is the smallest market in Major League Baseball. That puts the Brewers at a serious competitive disadvantage with the other teams. The biggest challenge is local television revenue. Based simply on population, teams in much bigger markets are able to bring in a lot more revenue in their local television contracts than the Brewers can.

In order to have the financial resources to field a team that can compete with the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers and others, the Brewers need to take advantage of every revenue opportunity they can. Miller Park’s retractable dome is a big help in boosting attendance, which has benefitted the Brewers tremendously. But that’s not enough. The Brewers can’t afford to maintain the status quo and pass up opportunities to increase sponsorship revenues.

Fans grow attached to the names of the mascots and the ballpark. But these corporate sponsorships are about money, period. And, like it or not, teams need money to compete in professional sports.

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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