The baseball commissioner has a message for Wisconsin. Fix American Family Field — or else

·3 min read
American Family Field's funding situation is drawing attention from Major League Baseball.
American Family Field's funding situation is drawing attention from Major League Baseball.

Wisconsin's Legislature and Gov. Tony Evers need to approve a plan to finance $448 million of long-term renovations at American Family Field — or perhaps risk the Milwaukee Brewers moving to another city.

That's the indirect message delivered Thursday by Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert Manfred on a visit to Milwaukee − part of a series of visits Manfred makes to MLB cities.

To be sure, Manfred didn't explicitly say the Brewers might leave Milwaukee once the team's lease of American Family Field expires at the end of 2030. And the ballclub's principal owner, Mark Attanasio, has said repeatedly he wants the team to stay in Milwaukee for the long term.

But Manfred told reporters it's important that a ballpark funding plan be promptly approved by government officials.

And he cited the Oakland Athletics' ballpark, the publicly owned Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, as a cautionary tale.

The Athletics are planning to move to Las Vegas under a tentative deal just announced by Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo.

The team's move is being prompted in part by the Oakland ballpark's conditions. Major League Baseball in 2021 granted the franchise permission to pursue relocation after deciding the stadium was no longer a viable option for the Athletics.

Oakland's local government officials "made some unfortunate decisions not to maintain the ballpark in the way that it needed to be maintained," Manfred told reporters Thursday.

"It resulted in a decline in the attendance which had an impact on the quality of the product that the team could afford to put on the field," he said.

"This ballpark is an asset," Manfred said about American Family Field.

"I think the Brewers are interested in a long-term relationship and an extension of the lease that'll keep them here," he said.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert Manfred spoke to reporters Thursday before the Milwaukee Brewers-San Francisco Giants game.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert Manfred spoke to reporters Thursday before the Milwaukee Brewers-San Francisco Giants game.

Evers, a Democrat, in February proposed providing state cash for long-term renovations at American Family Field.

Separate GOP plan is being developed

Republicans who control the Legislature rejected Evers' proposal but have been negotiating a separate deal that has yet to be unveiled.

The ballpark is owned primarily by the state-created Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District and is leased to the Brewers. The district is responsible for most major renovations under terms of that lease, which runs through 2030.

The renovations will cost an estimated $428 million over roughly the next 20 years, according to a study commissioned by the Brewers and reviewed by a consultant hired by the state Department of Administration.

That tab rises to $448 million with an inflation contingency. That covers such items as upgrades to the seats, concourses and gathering spaces − similar to what's been happening at other Major League Baseball stadiums.

Evers proposed a $290 million payment for American Family Field within his $103.8 billion budget proposal.

The $448 million cost would be covered by that payment, along with interest it would earn over several years as well as $70 million in state funds already set aside by the stadium district, according to the Evers administration.

In return, the Brewers would extend the lease to the end of 2043.

Evers says keeping the Brewers in Milwaukee would generate an estimated $400 million in state sales and income taxes over 20 years.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Republican, has acknowledged those tax benefits.

But Vos has suggested City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County funding should be part of the stadium financing package − similar to the deal that helped pay for Fiserv Forum. Local officials aren't happy with that idea, noting that they're facing difficulties paying for such public services as police, sanitation and parks.

Also, both Democratic and Republican legislators have suggested providing state payments in separate two-year budget cycles − while also requiring the Brewers to extend the ballclub's lease beyond 2043.

Manfred said he was optimistic a financing plan will emerge.

"The governmental entities will find a way to fund that obligation," he said.

Todd Rosiak of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this article.

Tom Daykin can be emailed at and followed on InstagramTwitter and Facebook.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Brewers ballpark funding draws concerns from MLB Commissioner Manfred