Brewer’s President of Business Operations discusses the expensive reality of ballpark upgrades

Rick Schlesinger, President of Operations, Milwaukee Brewers.

The Milwaukee Brewers have been in the news lately, and not just because they finished first in the NL Central Division. Much of the gossip revolves around the future of her homeland, 21-year-old American Family Field. What will it take to keep the ballpark in good shape for years to come, and who will foot the bill?

Rick Schlesinger, the Brewers’ President of Business Operations, addressed these questions, among others, at this week’s Milwaukee Press Club Newsmaker Luncheon.

The team is awaiting the results of a study on American Family Field by Brentwood, Tenn.-based Venue Solutions Group. The report, due for release sometime this summer, will detail the future improvements required to the stadium and the estimated costs of these projects. The Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District has an $87 million reserve fund for future projects, but Schlesinger confirmed Tuesday that total project costs will exceed that amount.

“There will be a funding gap,” he told a panel of local reporters. “I don’t think it will necessarily be a small number when it comes to ballparks and what will be required 18 years from now.”

One point he kept emphasizing was that the Brewers did not want to reintroduce the controversial five-county sales tax to fill the gap between the $87 million in reserve funding and the actual cost of maintaining the stadium close. This tax, introduced from 1996 to 2020, raised approximately $605 million to fund the construction and operation of the stadium.

Journal Sentinel reporter Tom Daykin, who was on Tuesday’s press club panel, previously reported that the Brewers are likely to seek an estimated $100 million in public funding for the stadium’s future necessary upgrades. When questioned by Schlesinger, Daykin said he had heard that a more accurate estimate would likely be somewhere in the hundreds of millions of dollars and questioned whether there was any value in that higher estimate, but Schlesinger did not directly confirm or deny this.

When asked which parts of American Family Field likely needed the most attention, Schlesinger mentioned the retractable roof as one of the stadium’s most expensive features, but said no major renovation or replacement work was needed.

“The roof is the hallmark of the baseball stadium,” he said. “It is well maintained, with independent engineers assessing the roof annually. The district has done an excellent job of preserving it. … We’re looking at the same type of maintenance we’ve been doing since day one.”

The study will highlight eight to nine categories of expenses that the district will be responsible for over the next 18 years, including outside expenses Architecture, vertical transport, security and technology related to scoreboards and security hardware. “It’s not going to be a cheap deal,” Schlesinger said, adding that the “good news here is that we don’t have to replace American Family Field.”

He also reiterated that these future improvements are necessary not only to sustain the structure itself, but to keep the Brewers in Milwaukee long-term, keep the team competitive on the field, and continue to drive economic activity in the region and state .

Schlesinger pointed to similar planned or ongoing infrastructure investments at other major baseball stadiums in the United States, such as B. $435 million at Progressive Field in Cleveland and $600 million at Camden Yards in Baltimore as part of the Orioles lease extension.

On development as a possible solution

Asked the recent push by a Milwaukee County Board supervisor to consider developing a surrounding entertainment district As a solution to funding stadium upgrades, Schlesinger said all ideas and contributions are welcome.

“I want people to start thinking creatively about how to approach the situation because, again, we’re not bringing back the five-county tax, but if there’s a funding shortfall — and there will be — what will.” we’re doing to cover that funding shortfall?” he said. “There are a lot of creative solutions out there that require scrutiny of everything, including real estate.”

However, the idea of ​​creating a mixed-use entertainment district on 82-acres of parking lots east of the stadium may not be the best path for the Brewers. Schlesinger pointed out the nuances in creating a successful real estate development, saying it had to be appropriate for the particular location and environment.

“It has to make sense within the neighborhood, it has to make economic sense for us or for whoever is going to develop the properties,” he said. “The world is littered with grandiose predictions about the value of real estate developments only to bring them down. We don’t want that.”

Regarding potential changes to the Stadium Freeway

The Proposed Resolution of the 15th District Supervisor Peter Burgelis also calls on the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to investigate the possible “dismantling” of the Stadium Freeway (Wisconsin Highway 175) south of Interstate 94 to West National Avenue, which could restore the road network and connect it to an entertainment district.

Schlesinger said he agrees that that section of Highway 175 that runs alongside American Family Field needs repair and upgrading. He raised concerns about traffic accidents caused by the abrupt speed limit transition from the freeway to Brewers Boulevard and the West National Avenue intersection, saying he was “interested in and would support a full investigation of what happened.” we could do south of 175,” including “lowering the speed limit and making it a viable street for what it’s going to be.” And if there were a way to better connect the Strip to the adjacent stadium parking lots, if he is in favour, says Schlesinger.

About the backlog of group ticket sales after the pandemic

Schlesinger also provided an update on how the franchise is recovering financially after the COVID-19 pandemic and two seasons without fans or limited fan capacity. While fan capacity has returned to 100% since the start of the 2022 season and individual ticket sales are stable, the team’s group sales business continues to lag behind pre-COVID levels.

In a normal year, the group business would account for around 600,000 tickets sold. This year there will be around 400,000. The gap of 200,000 tickets is “not a small number,” Schlesinger said, but it’s not surprising given the shift to hybrid work at many regional businesses.

“Many employers still allow their employees to work remotely, so they do fewer employee events and field trips. Many schools, which invite groups in April and May and then in September when the school is back in operation, have not, for understandable reasons, carried out extracurricular activities with their students,” he said.

Another unforeseen factor is inflation. Rising labor and fuel costs have discouraged large groups from hiring buses to and from the Games.

Overall, the Brewers are estimated to sell 2.5 to 2.6 million tickets this season. Ticket sales make up the lion’s share of franchise revenue, and for the smallest baseball market, TV and media revenue is limited.

“We have to make up that deficit (in broadcast revenue compared to larger MLB markets) with gate receipts, which means we have to get a lot of fans into the stadium, and I have to do it intelligently,” Schlesinger said. “I can’t overprice my tickets; I have to be price conscious; I have a great product to offer in the field; I have to have a great, wonderful environment to keep people coming, even if the Brewers don’t win every home game. … The success of the team on the field is an integral part of participation.”

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