ReThink Milwaukee Brewers ownership through taxpayer equity. 

ReThink Milwaukee Brewers ownership through taxpayer equity. 

The Milwaukee Brewers and Major League Baseball (MLB) are threatening to leave Milwaukee unless taxpayers ante up a huge public subsidy. Unlike the Milwaukee Bucks, the Brewers are demanding taxpayer support without the commitment of public or community benefits. The deals that have been floated are even less accountable than corporate subsidies such as the disastrous FoxConn deal, requiring little in return from the millionaire owner of the franchise aside from a short term commitment not to move.

The Brewers owners and MLB do not actually need the subsidy. They are demanding the subsidy because they have the leverage, no matter what the consequences for the cash strapped City of Milwaukee. They are hoping to cash in by manipulating the loyalty of Brewer fans. When leaders weigh the political consequences of losing a beloved sports franchise versus providing massive subsidies, most expect a deal to be eventually worked out that keeps the team in Wisconsin.

This does not need to be an all or nothing proposition if local and state elected officials adopt an alternative approach to economic development which has gained traction in many cities. Wisconsin and Milwaukee should demand something of value in return for the massive layout of public resources other than a short term commitment to remain in MIlwaukee. They should demand an enforceable Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) which guarantees that tangible economic benefits flow to Milwaukee’s working class and marginalized communities.

Equally important, we (our state and local governments) should also demand an equity share of the Milwaukee Brewers, guaranteeing that the public will get a return on their investment when the franchise is sold.

Securing an equity position for our investment would be a step in the direction of the highly successful model established by the Green Bay Packers, the only publicly owned team in American professional sports. Given the rapid rise in the value of MLB teams, this is a win-win proposition. The Brewers get upfront cash to maintain and improve the ballpark, and the public gets a return on its investment above.

SIGN PETITION in support of the public having an equity share of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Background and Context

Less than a month ago, the city and county of Milwaukee were facing an existential fiscal crisis, primarily the result of being starved of resources by the state. Parks, social services, street maintenance, public safety and health, amenities like the domes, and tens of thousands of jobs were at risk despite the state sitting on a $7 billion surplus.

Now that the crisis has been resolved through the implementation of a regressive local sales tax, the Milwaukee Brewers owners, with the support of MLB, are threatening to leave Milwaukee if they are not given a $290 million subsidy (or $378 million with interest it is expected to earn), for repair and maintenance costs. This would be the highest per-year subsidy in major league history and one of the highest in all of professional sports.

This is the second time the taxpayers are being asked to fund professional baseball. The original stadium deal, including 25 years of repairs and maintenance, has cost taxpayers $1.56 billion to date. The deal did not include a community benefits component.

The Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District that oversees Brewers’ stadium commissioned a 2018 study by the Mortenson company of all the maintenance and repair costs for the stadium through 2040 and put aside $71.8 million in sales tax revenue to pay for the long list of stadium features. Those included “a full replacement of all 35,244 seats,” replacing two 800-ton chillers and air-handling equipment, the flat roof portion of the ballpark, the LED ribbon board and LED out-of-town scoreboards, and doing “one more replacement of these boards” 10-15 years later, along with new LED lights and theatrical controls, a “drastically improved” sound system, maintenance and upgrades of 9 elevators and 10 escalators and parking lot and roadway improvements.

The Brewers have insisted the study was incomplete. They have come up with their own study showing the true cost is $448 million. But the team has never clarified or costed out which features were missing from the Mortenson study and what taxpayers will actually be paying for.

In an effort to secure this public subsidy, the Brewers spent $575,000 lobbying the state legislature from January through June 2023 — more than any other organization of lobbyists— and over 143 hours communicating with state lawmakers.

Mark Attanasio, the co-founder of Crescent Capital Group, purchased the Brewers for $223 million (with the agreement in 2004 and the sale going through in 2005); today, Forbes estimates that the Brewers are worth $1.6  billion. Attanasio is worth $700 million.

Reasonable people can disagree on whether public funds should be invested in professional sports. Most economists agree that professional sports do not increase total employment or income but, due to the substitution effect, simply replace spending on other forms of entertainment with sports expenditures. The opportunity costs are real–public dollars spent on professional sports and stadiums are not available for other public purposes such as fixing streets, replacing lead lines, or maintaining parks.

The Milwaukee County Board has voted not to invest its funds in the stadium and five alderpersons issued a similar statement. But politicians generally come to support public funding because they don’t want to be blamed if teams follow through on threats to move.

SIGN PETITION in support of the public having an equity share of the Milwaukee Brewers.


As a result, progressives have demanded that public funding include community benefits like those attached to the Milwaukee Bucks’ public subsidy.

Given the state surplus, the simplest and least painful way to subsidize the stadium would be for the state to pay for it as Governor Evers has suggested. But Republican leaders have rejected that and appear to be insisting on a local contribution.

Assuming local elected officials end up supporting a local contribution to the public subsidy, the public should organize to demand that they be given an equity stake in the Milwaukee Brewers for their investment.  At a minimum that would ensure that when the Brewers are sold, as they surely will be, that the public will get a return on its investment.

SIGN PETITION in support of the public having an equity share of the Milwaukee Brewers.

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