It had been 26 years since the month of October meant anything to the Milwaukee Brewers. And after waiting for so long the team and its fans certainly knew how to celebrate in 2008.
I often hear people from America’s Dairy land say that in the city of Milwaukee the last time there was this much excitement about sports was when the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl in 1997.
Since the arrival of Mark Attanasio as the new team principal owner in 2004, the Brewers have slowly transformed into a contender in the National League playoff chase. Attendance for Brewers games also grew at a steady pace.
More than three million people attended games at Miller Park in 2008, a number rarely achieved by small market teams.
And Milwaukee is the smallest of all 30 MLB markets.
Mark Attanasio’s dedication to transforming the Brewers and turning them into a team that does not get written off at the beginning of every season generated local support that resounded throughout the rest of the league.
Not only did fans attend games at Miller Park in high numbers, they also spent money on officially licensed Brewers gear more than one might have expected.
The Brewers business organization did everything possible to make some noise and spark national attention. And the results were imminent.
Nationally, sales of Brewers merchandise for 2008 were up by approximately 90 percent compared to 2007. The Brewers turned in one of the best numbers in the entire league in terms of overall merchandise sales revenue at the end of the season, and topped the league in terms of inside the ballpark sales.
Yes, you read this correct.
The Brewers had higher numbers in terms of sales inside Miller Park than did the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium, the New York Mets at Shea Stadium, or the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.
I remember reading stories told by local concession stands attendants at Fenway Park, who were amazed by the number of Brewers gear they witnessed during a recent inter-league East Coast trip for the Brewers.
It is one thing to hear such stories when the Yankees or the Cubs are in town, yet another when we are talking about Milwaukee. After all, in previous years fans could not even fill up Miller Park.
Mark Attanasio, and General Manager Doug Melvin, responded to the increase in revenue and returned the favor to fans by acquiring CC Sabathia before the All-Star break.
Suddenly, Miller Park turned into one of the most electrifying venues in baseball, the Brewers turned into contenders, and the community quickly became used to seeing some of the brighter stars in the game in Brewers uniform.
The Brewers also received much desired national attention and an extensive coverage of the team was something commonly seen across all major sports network channels and web sites.
But too much good fortune is never too good, and the Brewers are now beginning to feel the consequences of their recent successes.
With a budget approximating $100 million last season, the Brewers had set fan expectations that this number would at the minimum be matched in 2009. Milwaukee supporters quickly adjusted to the new role the Brewers fulfilled in the last two seasons and raised their own expectations.
And now that the Brewers have lost CC Sabathia in free agency to the Yankees, and when an agreement with Ben Sheets seems far-fetched, fans are starting to show concern.
On message boards and forums people are expressing discontent with the offseason the Brewers are having so far. Supporters had their own favorites from the available free agents, yet the Brewers have so far remained apathetic.
Instead, Doug Melvin concentrated his efforts on negotiating deals with his existing player personnel. He also signed a number of players to minor-league contracts in hoping that someone will make noise once the season starts.
Melvin noted on multiple occasions that in the difficult economic times the Brewers are trying to keep their core of young players, who are turning into stars, while at the same time aiming to provide financial flexibility throughout the season by not breaking the bank in preseason.
And fans should not be upset with the Brewers even if there isn’t a single other big name player acquired this off-season besides Trevor Hoffmann. The franchise exceeded everyone’s expectations in the last two years, and had a budget that would be more suitable for one of the bigger Major League Baseball markets.
Principal owner, Mark Attanasio, has stated his commitment to improving the team even through difficult economic times. Attanasio’s main business is investment banking, and anyone who has watched at least one hour's worth of news in the past five months is aware that for people like him the main concern is how to stop losing money.
But instead of thinking about selling the club or waiving a white flag and freezing much of the Brewers' capital and initiatives, Mark Attanasio has remained engaged with the Brewers, and has noted a full commitment to giving back to fans.
And if fans show the loyalty they submerged to in 2008, Attanasio, and the Brewers, might even turn in a profit in 2009 while other teams are trying to avoid operating at a loss.
Rick Schlesinger, the Brewers executive vice president for business operations, recently announced that reconstructions are being made to Miller Park to improve fan experience during games, even if the replacement of the scoreboard has been put on hold for a couple of seasons.
He also noted that season ticket plans for the Brewers have a renewal rate of approximately 95 percent.
Declines in sponsorship revenue, declines in suite revenue, difficulties in maintaining the attendance base—those are all things Schlesinger’s peers from other teams have indicated concerns about, and things the Brewers have not been negatively influenced by.
And those other clubs are not spending much on free agents or making big trades either.
Simply take a look at Ben Sheets and how difficult it is for him to find a team willing to offer a multi-year deal for a player prone to injuries who if healthy could be the ace of any pitching rotation.
No one wants to take a gamble with money right now—being cautious is becoming an advantage and not a deficiency.
And Brewers supporters should not forget the past as before last season October had been a no go for baseball in the area for a quarter century. Therefore, even if it takes the franchise a few seasons before another playoff appearance is achieved, so be it.
No one should expect Milwaukee to be in the playoffs every season. What fans should expect to see instead is a vision by the governing body of the Brewers.
Based on previous record, Mark Attanasio, Doug Melvin, and their outstanding personnel seem to know what they are doing. Great leaders are most easily recognized in difficult times, and if you are a Milwaukee Brewers fan you should be happy that your team has a business organization, which has put the team in an enviable financial position during a national economic downturn.
In this economy there is no logic in giving up young talent to acquire overrated starting pitchers. There is no logic in risking your financial stability over a long-term deal with a player who has been injured every season. There is no logic in signing overpriced free agents.
There is no logic in giving up draft picks when in return you are getting an average performance player.
The only logical thing to do is exactly what the Brewers have done so far – build for the future.
At this time, supporters need to prove they could be loyal to their team and stand behind the front office even when the Brewers might not be in the playoff race. There has been much talk in the past that Milwaukee does not care about baseball.
Over three million supporters who walked by Hank Aaron’s statue in front of the main gate of Miller Park last season proved this theory incorrect. People are now questioning the loyalty of Milwaukee fans.
So it is time we prove everyone wrong again.