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The Stadium Scam: Milwaukee Edition

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UNDATED:  Robin Yount of the Millwaukee Brewers poses during an MLB game.  Robin Yount played for the TEAM from 1974-1993.  (Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
UNDATED: Robin Yount of the Millwaukee Brewers poses during an MLB game. Robin Yount played for the TEAM from 1974-1993. (Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Publicly funded sports stadiums, the grift that keeps on giving.

Oh, what a lovely investment the Milwaukee Brewers team is. Mark Attanasio paid $223 million for the Brewers in 2005 and the team is now worth $925 million, according to the latest analysis by Forbes magazine.

Pro sports owners almost never lose money. They may have a net loss in a given year or years, but that is far offset by the way sports franchise values rise. The resell value of the franchise is always rising and always guarantees a huge return.

One reason is that a team like the Brewers is basically a monopoly, the only such sports franchise in the metro area. But perhaps a bigger reason is that the company’s major cost of operation, the stadium in which the team plays, is largely paid for by taxpayers. The cost of Miller Park, which could ultimately run anywhere from $524 million to more than a billion in taxes, depending on what costs and subsidies you choose to include, is far more than Bud Selig and his partners invested in the team (including the original purchase price) during the years they owned the Brewers.

And the fact that the taxpayers continue to pay for the stadium, its maintenance and new additions, makes the Brewers a sweet deal for Attanasio. Moreover, he doesn’t just get to a heavily subsidized baseball stadium, but an ever-growing concert venue as well.

As Forbes notes, the Brewers “poor play dinged ballpark attendance 9% last season, but their concert business is picking up. Country superstar Kenny Chesney’s June 2016 concert at Miller Park ranked as the top-grossing concert in that period with gross sales of $4.8 million, according to figures reported in Venues Today. The Brewers signed a deal with Ballpark Music to stage concerts at Miller Park next season. The agreement provides a financial boost to the Brewers because any money earned at the non-baseball events goes directly to the team under the Brewers lease. The Brewers keep the revenue from parking, food and merchandise.”

Yep, yet another gift from the taxpayers of this five-county metro area (which includes Racine county, much to the continuing anger of its residents), who get no cut of the concert revenues in the stadium they built.

But hey, at least ownership is investing those profits in making the team competitive!

In 2000, the year before Miller Park opened, the team had the eighth-lowest payroll at $36.5 million, well below the median payroll of about $56 million and far below the top payroll of $92.5 million for the New York Yankees.

How has Miller Park changed this? Actually the disparity has gotten far worse. The current payroll of the team is $62 million, which is dead last in the league, far below the median payroll of $138.2 million and light years below the top payroll of $244.6 million for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

True, the Brewers have been in a rebuilding mode, but the team’s payroll rank since Miller Park opened has averaged between the 20th and 21st in the league — about the same rank it had in the years before the new stadium was built.

In short, while Miller Park assured Major League Baseball remained in Milwaukee, and has greatly increased the wealth of Selig and Attanasio, it didn’t exactly make the Brewers a powerhouse. The team’s last (and only) World Series appearance was back in 1982, and 16 years after Miller Park opened, it hasn’t gotten the team much closer to another pennant.

Why, it’s almost as if the rich lie to the public about their investment priorities!

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