Milwaukee Brewers spend $1.5 million on lobbying, get $365.8 million in state funds

Over nine years, the Major League Baseball franchise in Milwaukee spent more than $1.5 million — with nearly $800 million in 2023 alone — on lobbying the Wisconsin Legislature to seek support for directing state funding toward stadium renovations.

The Badger Project

February 26, 2024

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A sign labeled Brewers and with arrows pointing toward different locations stands under a tree and in front of a baseball stadium with a closed retractable roof under a cloudy sky.

American Family Field is seen on Sept. 19, 2023, in Milwaukee. The Milwaukee Brewers spent nearly $800,000 on lobbying the Wisconsin Legislature in 2023. The Major League Baseball franchise spent the fourth-highest amount on lobbying among organizations in the state in 2023, only behind Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the Wisconsin Hospital Association and the Wisconsin Realtors Association. (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

Badger Project

By Peter Cameron, The Badger Project

That’s a good return on investment.

Seeking hundreds of millions for stadium renovations, the Milwaukee Brewers spent more than $1.5 million in the past nine years lobbying the Wisconsin State Legislature, according to their mandatory reports to the state.

After months of negotiations between Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, the Republican-controlled state Legislature and the Brewers, the ball club reached a deal to receive nearly $366 million from the state to help pay for renovations at their stadium, American Family Field, in exchange for agreeing to stay in Milwaukee through 2050.

“Lobbying is effective,” said Ed Miller, a political science professor emeritus at UW-Stevens Point.

By comparison, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s chamber of commerce and usual top lobbier, spent about $3.7 million on lobbying in the same timeframe.

But the Brewers spent the most of all lobbying organizations in the first half of 2023 — $575,000 — as they worked to close the deal. The ball club reported spending another $216,000 in lobbying in the second half of 2023.

That’s good for fourth-most in lobbying spending in the state in 2023, behind the regular top three of the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the Wisconsin Hospital Association and the Wisconsin Realtors Association.

The Brewers did not spend a dime lobbying before 2015. But the ballclub steadily increased its expenditures in Madison over the next nine years, culminating with a tab of nearly $800,000 in 2023.

Lobbying is the attempt to influence legislative or administrative action with any elected official, agency official or legislative employee, and includes time spent preparing for such communications and appearances. Wisconsin has strict lobbying laws, as lobbyists cannot give anything of value to an elected official, candidate for state elective office, legislative employee, or agency official.

The bill to provide the funding easily passed the Wisconsin State Legislature in November, with the Assembly approving it on a 72-26 vote and the Senate 19-14.

The Brewers reported spending 1,074 hours on lobbying and related activities in 2023, the 38th most among lobbying organizations in 2023. By comparison, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce reported spending more than 5,000 hours on lobbying and related activities, the most in 2023.

Details of the Brewers deal

The stadium’s majority owner is the public, though the Brewers still have a large piece. The Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District, a public entity created by the legislature, owns 64.23% of the stadium, said Pat Goss, executive director of the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District. The Brewers own the remaining 35.77%.

Some had called for the state to get an ownership stake in the Brewers in exchange for the public funding.

The Badger Project asked the offices of Gov. Tony Evers, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu if this idea was considered, but none responded.

The state will contribute $365.8 million, which will be distributed gradually in annual payments through 2050. Milwaukee County and the city of Milwaukee will each contribute $67.5 million. That equals more than $500 million in public funding for stadium renovations over the next 27 years.

The Brewers agree to put $110 million toward renovations and extend their stadium lease through 2050.

As part of the agreement, the state will impose surcharges on tickets to non-baseball events at the stadium, like concerts. The surcharges are expected to generate more than $20 million, Evers announced in his press release.

Milwaukee is the smallest market of the 30 Major League Baseball clubs, but regularly punches well above its weight in attendance, usually finishing in the middle of the league.

Lobbying worked for the Bucks too

The Milwaukee Bucks reported spending nearly $700,000 on lobbying in the 2015-2016 legislative session, as the team tried to secure funding for its new arena, the Fiserv Forum. The Bucks eventually got $250 million from the state and Milwaukee County to help build the arena, which opened in 2018. The team has reported no lobbying since then.

The Badger Project is a nonpartisan, citizen-supported journalism nonprofit in Wisconsin.

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