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Governor set to sign off ‘historic’ American Family Field deal

Featured image credit: American Family Field

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers has announced that he plans to sign into law a funding deal aimed at keeping Major League Baseball (MLB) franchise the Milwaukee Brewers in the state through an extended lease contract and improvements for American Family Field.

The proposal was yesterday (Tuesday) approved by the state Senate on a 19-14 vote after the Assembly earlier approved an amended version by 72 votes to 26, a larger margin than backing initially granted last month.

The Brewers’ current lease deal at American Family Field runs until 2030. In September, a bill was proposed by Republican legislators in Wisconsin that would see the state provide the team with $60.8m (£48.8m/€56m) in the next fiscal year and up to $20m each year thereafter until 2045-46.

As part of that proposal, which would keep the Brewers at American Family Field until 2050, the City of Milwaukee would have contributed $202m towards renovation work, with Milwaukee County to provide $135m and the team itself to contribute around $100m.

American Family Field is majority owned by the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District, a state agency that leases the ballpark to the Brewers. The lease requires the stadium district to pay for most of the stadium’s long-term maintenance and renovations.

Under the bills passed Tuesday, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the state will now contribute an estimated $365.8m – a reduction that has been made possible with the addition of a ticket surcharge on non-Brewers events held at the stadium.

Events such as concerts will now require an additional $2 per ticket fee, with the amount rising to $8 for a ticket that allows access to “a stadium luxury box or suite”. The amendment increases the surcharge on non-Brewers events to $3 starting in 2033 and to $4 starting in 2042. The fee for box or suite tickets will increase to $9 starting in 2033 and to $10 starting in 2042.

Milwaukee County and the City of Milwaukee will each make annual payments totalling $67.5m by 2050. Meanwhile, the Brewers’ contribution, including rent payments, will rise from $140m to $150m.

Assembly Bills 438 and 439, respectively, will first need to be enrolled before being presented to the Governor. Once a bill has been presented by the respective body of the Wisconsin State Legislature, Evers has six days, excluding Sundays, to take action on a bill. 

He said yesterday that he will sign the bipartisan plan, adding in a statement: “This is a great day for Wisconsin. For decades, the Brewers have been a cherished part of our state’s heritage and an essential part of Milwaukee’s and our state’s economic success.

“And after months of hard work, I’m proud to say we’re going to be keeping the Brewers in Milwaukee, supporting thousands of family-supporting jobs – including union jobs – and ensuring a new generation of Wisconsinites can grow up cheering for the home team just like countless others before them.

“As a lifelong Brewers fan, I always believed that we could work together to find common ground and build bipartisan support to keep this team and critical economic driver right here in Wisconsin, and today, that’s exactly what we did.”

The Brewers have claimed that as American Family Field’s sole tenant, the team represents the only reason for the facility’s existence. Located in the smallest market as defined by MLB, the Brewers have said they require a premier ballpark to drive ticket sales and continue to field competitive teams, adding that this makes maintenance of the stadium “all the more critical”.

Following yesterday’s bipartisan vote, Rick Schlesinger, president of business operations for the Milwaukee Brewers, said in a statement: “This vote by a bipartisan majority of the State Senate is a historic moment, not only allowing the Stadium District to meet its obligations to maintain the ballpark but paving the way for the Brewers to remain in Wisconsin for the next generation.

“We appreciate the leadership in the legislature and among local officials, and beginning with that of Governor Evers, as we worked with all stakeholders to help build support for a creative solution that would protect taxpayers.
“Baseball is a game enjoyed by working families all across the state, and we are grateful to be near a final agreement to keep Major League Baseball in Milwaukee for all to enjoy. The MMAC study demonstrated that American Family Field has contributed north of $2.5bn in statewide economic impact since opening its doors in 2001, and by extending the ballpark’s useful life, we are working to preserve an important economic driver for the future.
“The Brewers will continue to collaborate with all stakeholders in the days and weeks ahead, as policymakers work on the final steps to put legislation on the desk of Governor Evers. As the Brewers landlord, the Stadium District needs resources to honour its current lease agreement with its tenant. Today’s bipartisan vote creates a path to provide those resources.”