With the start of the abbreviated 2020 season finally arriving, the Milwaukee Brewers will take the field at Miller Park without one of the franchise’s biggest assets – fans in the stands.
The Brewers open the regular season at Wrigley Field on Friday night against the Chicago Cubs after a nearly four-month delay due to the coronavirus pandemic. After a six-game road trip to begin the campaign, the Brewers will play their first home game on July 31 versus the St. Louis Cardinals in an empty Miller Park.
A season without fans will have a major financial impact for the Brewers, a small-market team whose finances are heavily dependent on tickets sales and revenue generated from parking and concessions.
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“Without getting into specifics, it’s significant dollars that we are losing this year,” Brewers President of Business Operations Rick Schlesinger said during a press conference held outside of Miller Park on Monday morning.
Unlike major-market teams, the Brewers television broadcast deals generate a relatively small amount of revenue, making attendance at the ballpark even more important.
The Brewers ranked eighth in the major leagues last season in attendance, drawing nearly 3 million fans, a major accomplishment given Milwaukee’s market size.
The construction of Miller Park and ongoing Brewers’ operations have generated $2.5 billion in total economic output for the state while providing more than 1,800 jobs annually that are responsible for $1.2 billion in personal earnings, according to an independent study by Conventions, Sports & Leisure International, an advisory firm specializing in sports and entertainment industries.
The shortened season and lack of fans will cause “hundreds of millions of dollars in lost spending and the accompanying tax revenue that comes with it,” Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce President Tim Sheehy said.
Without fans, including those who travel to attend games, area hotels, restaurants and bars will also be adversely affected, Schlesinger said.
“I hate to say this, but we are missing all those Cubs fans from Illinois who fill this ballpark and create a great rivalry,” Schlesinger said. “The reality is this is a temporary situation and we believe, long term, that the economic engine that is Miller Park will be revved up. If we can’t have fans this year, we’ll pivot and talk about how we get fans in 2021.”
Schlesinger said he is confident fans will return to Miller Park in droves next season.
“I’m an eternal optimist and I believe we will have fans at the ballpark in 2021 and I have not given up hope that we might even have fans in 2020,” he said.
The team is in regular contact with the City of Milwaukee’s Health Department concerning the pandemic.
“They have not given us a timeline and we have not asked for one,” Schlesinger said. “If they decide it’s not appropriate, we will be fine with that decision and focus on providing a great game experience with people listening to (Bob) Uecker on the radio and watching on television.”
The compressed 60-game schedule, instead of the regular 162-game slate, will create a “sense of urgency” among players, Schlesinger said.
“It’s sort of a sprint to the post-season,” he said. “The players are extremely motivated. They recognize what’s at stake. They want to win a World Series.”
Players and other team personnel have been subjected to “stringent” COVID-19 testing, he added.
“The players realize if they stay within the protocols and follow the rules, at home and on the road, they are going to stay healthy and healthy teams are going to have an advantage,” Schlesinger said. “This year, more than ever, being healthy is going to determine who wins and who loses.”
The team will experiment with several items, including virtual sponsor signage, during television broadcasts this season.
Messages will be superimposed in the stands, behind the pitcher’s mound and in the coaches’ boxes.
The team also is looking into having players wear microphones during games and plans to boost its social media efforts to enhance the fan experience.
“People are starved for live entertainment. Just having live baseball and having the sounds of summer will be extremely impactful,” Schlesinger said.
Another game-day tradition also will be missing this season. The pandemic means no tailgating in packed parking lots at the ballpark, at least for now.
“I would love to have cars here tailgating and having a communal experience, even if they aren’t coming into the ballpark,” Schlesinger said. “The reality is, we aren’t at the point where we are allowed to do that.”