Brewers’ head of business operations shares outlook on stadium funding, new fan offerings, group sales demand

Crowds packed American Family Field during the 2021 MLB playoffs.

Last updated on April 4th, 2023 at 01:18 pm

The Milwaukee Brewers home opener today at American Family Field comes on the heels of ongoing discussions and debate over how to pay for ongoing and future upgrades to the Brewers’ 22-year-old ballpark.

Under the budget proposed by Gov. Tony Evers in February, the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District could have received $290 million from the state’s $7 billion surplus for improvements to American Family Field, and in exchange the Brewers would commit to remaining in Milwaukee until 2043. The team’s current lease agreement ends in 2030.

But that one-time cash payment is no longer on the table after Republicans said last month that they will scrap Evers’ proposal and rewrite the budget “from scratch.” While it’s now unclear what kind of deal the Republican-controlled state Legislature will work out with the Brewers and how that agreement will ultimately be reached, team leadership remains optimistic about the outcome.

“I’m confident that at the end of the day, the stadium district will get what it needs,” said Rick Schlesinger, president of business operations, speaking to BizTimes Milwaukee during a recent media event at American Family Field.

Rick Schlesinger, president of business operations for the Brewers.

“We fully expect that the ultimate legislation that gets passed will vary from what was initially proposed, that’s how legislation works,” said Schlesinger. “And while we certainly support the governor’s proposal, we also support the process, we also support that there are other alternatives, and we’re open to a lot of different options.”

He said it’s too early in the process to elaborate on what those other alternatives would entail. For now, the focus remains on what Schlesinger says is the common goal between the Brewers and state lawmakers: keeping the Brewers in Wisconsin and keeping the ballpark in shape for the “next generation.”

“We’re less focused on the specifics and more focused on the fact that everybody has a common objective, and everybody wants to get to the right place and everybody wants to do it responsibly with the taxpayers in mind, which is what we want,” he said. 

Studies commissioned by the Brewers and the state indicate the stadium will need more than $400 million in upgrades over the next 18 years. As the primary owner of the stadium, the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District is responsible for major capital repairs and improvements. It currently has $70 million in existing reserves but additional funding is needed to close the gap. And that’s where the state would come in.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has indicated that he’s committed to reaching a deal with the Brewers – one similar to the state’s 2015 deal with the Milwaukee Bucks, which included $250 million to help fund the construction of Fiserv Forum, according to reporting by the Wisconsin State Journal.

Corporate partners not deterred 

Luckily, the air of uncertainty around the Brewers’ long-term future has not posed a threat to new and existing business relationships, said Schlesinger.

“I haven’t heard a single person in our business community express concerns about the funding or the long-term viability of the Brewers in Wisconsin, just the opposite,” he said.

J. Leinenkugel’s Barrel Yard will open April 3 at American Family Field.

Last month, the Brewers announced a new sponsorship agreement with Chicago-based manufacturer Vienna Beef as its new official hot dog partner. The team has expanded its partnership with Chippewa Falls-based Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co., with the creation of J. Leinenkugel’s Barrel Yard, a brewery and restaurant now open in the former Restaurant to be Named Later and Friday’s space overlooking left field.

“We’re having a fantastic experience this season in new sponsors and name sponsorships,” said Schlesinger. “I think, first of all, we know we’re going to be here for the next generation. And we know that the ballpark funding ultimately is going to get done, and people have that expectation. People realize how valuable the Brewers are to the state, what we bring to the economy, what we bring to the fans, what we bring to the jobs, what we bring in tax revenue.”

Affordability key to fan experience

Meanwhile, the Brewers are also working to strengthen their relationship with their fan base as families continue to feel the pressure of rising inflation and are budgeting less for discretionary activities, like a day at the ballpark. That’s why the Brewers rolled out their new “414 Menu,” which prices a junior hot dog, junior nachos, Cracker Jack and 16 oz. soda at $4 each, available at 12 concession stands. Prices for an additional 20 popular items, including beer, ice cream, peanuts and popcorn, have been reduced anywhere from 5% to 18%, depending on the item.

“We’re trying to make sure there’s no reason people can’t come to the ballpark. If there’s a cost issue, we want to take that out of the equation,” said Schlesinger.

Also new this season is the Sunday Fun-Day Bundle, which includes four Terrace Level Outfield seats, four hot dogs, four sodas and a parking pass, all for $59. Fans can upgrade to the Loge Level bleachers for just $10 more per person.

Group sales are back

After two years of lagging group ticket sales in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for large group and corporate outings has recovered. As of late March, group sales numbers were trending “well ahead” of what they were last year at this time, said Schlesinger.

“I fully expect us to be back again to 2018, 2019 levels – somewhere between 550,000 and 600,000 tickets sold, which will put us in the top three in Major League Baseball,” he said.

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Maredithe has covered retail, restaurants, entertainment and tourism since 2018. Her duties as associate editor include copy editing, page proofing and managing work flow. Meyer earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University and still enjoys attending men’s basketball games to cheer on the Golden Eagles. Also in her free time, Meyer coaches high school field hockey and loves trying out new restaurants in Milwaukee.

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