As the Milwaukee Brewers prepare to begin regular season play later this week, team officials are coming to terms with what the absence of fans at games means for the business.
For a baseball club that has long relied on admissions as a major driver of revenue, it’s a huge loss to begin an already-shortened season without fans purchasing tickets and spending money on concessions, parking and merchandise at Miller Park, said Rick Schlesinger, president of business operations during a media preview event Monday.
Despite being one of the smallest markets in baseball, Brewers game attendance last year ranked 8th highest in Major League Baseball.
“Without getting into specifics, it’s significant dollars that we’re losing this year financially– there’s no question about it,” said Schlesinger.
The Brewers’ 60-game schedule begins Friday, Aug. 24 against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. The Brewers will play 30 games each at home and on the road, with all games broadcast live on television and radio.
Despite challenges brought on by COVID-19, Schlesinger remains optimistic about the Brewers’ long-term financial future and a return to full operations (with fans) in 2021. Schlesinger said he hasn’t given up hope that fans could return to Miller Park this season if local health and safety protocols allow.
Health officials have not provided the Brewers with any sort of timeline as to when bringing fans back inside Miller Park would be possible.
“Nor have we asked for one,” he said. “We recognize that many things have to happen that are unrelated to baseball,” Schlesinger said. “We want to make sure that testing is sound, we want to make sure that the health of our populous is under control. The city of Milwaukee will figure that out and we’ll follow their lead.”
For now, he said, the focus is delivering a valuable game experience to fans through TV and radio.
The impact of an upended 2020 season reaches far beyond the Brewers franchise.
A 2019 independent study, released in February by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, found that Miller Park has generated $2.5 billion in total economic output, $1.6 billion in direct spending and $263 million in new taxes to the state of Wisconsin over the past 21 years.
“The loss of revenue for the team is going to substantially generate less than $20 million in (annual) tax revenue (this year) because of fewer duty days for the players and fewer people employed,” said MMAC president Tim Sheehy, who also spoke at Monday’s media event.
According to the study, the stadium is responsible for supporting an average of 1,835 full- and part-time jobs. But the majority of Miller Park’s employees have been put out of work due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier this month, food service and hospitality company Delaware North notified state officials that it temporarily laid off about 1,300 employees who work at Lambeau Field and Miller Park.
Schlesinger said team operators feel a great responsibility to stadium employees who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19, and are working toward restoring those jobs next year.
“(Job loss) means families are suffering, that means kids are suffering, that means taxes aren’t being paid and people are deferring expenses they need to pay…,” he said. “I remain optimistic that 2021 will be different because we owe it to everybody to do everything we can to get our arms around the pandemic.”
Sheehy pointed out there are other Milwaukee-area jobs that have been impacted by an empty baseball stadium over the past couple of months, including workers at bars, restaurants, hotels and transportation companies, who directly benefit from Brewers’ business.
Outside of baseball, he said, Milwaukee is mourning the loss hundreds of millions of dollars in lost spending from what would have been an in-person Democratic National Convention, Summerfest, the Ryder Cup, Wisconsin State Fair, and other large-scale events wiped off the calendar this year due to COVID-19.
But assets such as an MLB or National Basketball Association team or world-renown music festival, which attract visitors and are important to the culture of the city, are here to stay despite the pandemic, said Sheehy.
“All these are huge heritage assets of this community that’s taken years to be built up and we’re not going to let one year of a pandemic undermine all that work,” Schlesinger said.