Editorial Roundup: Wisconsin

Wisconsin State Journal. September 24, 2023.

Editorial: Let’s go, Brewers — all the way to 2050

Let’s be honest: Wisconsin is lucky to have three professional sports teams in the Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Brewers and Milwaukee Bucks.

Twenty-four of the 50 states don’t have any teams in the four top leagues for football, baseball, basketball and hockey. Wisconsin is one of the smallest states with a major-league franchise, and Green Bay and Milwaukee are among the smallest media markets.

We get to have so many teams because we have so many fans willing to go to the games and spend money. But that’s no guarantee the Brewers will stay. They are privately owned with a lease at American Family Field that ends in 2030.

State leaders need to put politics aside and play as a team to renew the Brewers’ lease far into the future. The public should support a sizable investment, and the team should make a contribution, too.

Besides providing jobs and boosting the economy, the Brewers thrill fans and pull people together. Even if you don’t care about touchdowns or homeruns, you have to appreciate the comradery they foster.

Big-time sports are a fun break from the sharp divisions over politics and culture in American society. The love for our teams across Wisconsin is fueled by a pride in who we are and where we are from. A winning team can inspire hard work and break down differences.

Gov. Tony Evers threw out the first pitch for repairing and renovating the Brewers’ 22-year-old stadium in February. He included $290 million in his state budget proposal. The team applauded the offer, which would require them to stay in Milwaukee until 2043. The enhancements are necessary, the team convincingly insists, to keep them competitive. Many teams have bigger and better facilities. Like it or not, that’s the market.

Given that the state helped the Milwaukee Bucks build a new arena with bipartisan support — and the team subsequently won a championship — improvements to American Family Field seem fair for the Brewers. The team has a significant impact on Wisconsin’s prosperity and quality of life, and manager Craig Counsell and his players are making another strong run into the playoffs.

The governor proposed paying for the public cost of the stadium improvements using part of a $7 billion state surplus. Doing so would allow taxpayers to avoid paying interest on borrowed money, which is smart. Taxpayers also will benefit from hundreds of millions in tax revenue from player and team salaries if the team stays put.

Top Republican lawmakers rejected the Democratic governor’s offer. They want a greater financial and time commitment from the team, and they’re willing to spend more taxpayer dollars to get it, though about a third of that money would come from the city and county of Milwaukee. The Republicans are proposing $614 million in public investment, with $200 million coming from the city and county. The GOP also would require the team to kick in $100 million, which seems reasonable. Close to half of that expense for the team would be required under the current lease, anyway.

The GOP package would keep the Brewers in Milwaukee until 2050. The team seems warm to the latest proposal but needs the two partisan sides to agree. Brewers fans and anyone who cares about Wisconsin staying vibrant should pressure state leaders to cooperate on a final package.

Critics of tax dollars for private sports teams point to the owners’ deep pockets and predict that any entertainment dollars lost to a Brewers exit would be spent elsewhere in the state. But that ignores the benefits beyond dollars and cents. The psychological hit of losing such an engrained and beloved franchise would be deep. Just ask Oakland, California, which is losing its third big-league team in five years — and with it, a big part of its identity and pride.

The GOP should step up to the plate with more state money, rather than sticking it to the city and county of Milwaukee, which are already struggling with their finances. The Brewers help fill bars and fish-fry restaurants across Wisconsin when the game is on the tube. Cars line the interstates going into Milwaukee to tailgate before games. And a lot of those fans stop outside of Milwaukee to spend money on their way home.

Sure, local governments in Milwaukee should contribute. But they shouldn’t have to pay such a large share, especially if the Brewers oppose local development of some of American Family Field’s sea of surface parking lots.

Getting a solid deal done for taxpayers and the team shouldn’t be so hard, given the popularity of the cause. Evers and the GOP need to huddle up, negotiate a reasonable offer and keep the Brewers in Wisconsin for decades to come.