Team hopes to regain fans' trust

Updated: January 30, 2004, 11:23 PM ET
Associated Press

MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Brewers will disclose their financial records in hopes of restoring public trust after a tumultuous offseason.

Wisconsin's Legislative Audit Bureau and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce will conduct separate reviews of the club's finances over the last 10 years, said Rick Schlesinger, the Brewers' executive vice president in charge of business operations.

Brewers chief financial officer Bob Quinn will work with the groups when they begin their reviews next week. Reports are expected within 90 days.

"This is unprecedented on several levels," Schlesinger told The Associated Press. "I'm not aware of any professional sports team that's agreed to this level of scrutiny. And, No. 2, the Legislative Audit Bureau usually audits state agencies. It's not in the habit of reviewing private enterprises."

The Brewers have been in discussions for several weeks over a review of the club's finances, which stemmed from a public outcry following the November departure of popular team president Ulice Payne Jr., who went public with his reservations about plans to trim the teams' payroll by 25 percent.

The announcement brought the club a chorus of criticism for its failure to live up to its promise of building a better ballclub in a new stadium. The Brewers pledged higher payrolls and better teams when they won approval from state lawmakers in the 1990s to have taxpayers in a five-county area foot most of the bill for the $413 million Miller Park. The stadium opened in 2001.

But the Brewers' payrolls have declined the last two seasons and the club hasn't had a winning season since 1992. After Payne's departure, several state lawmakers called for a full-fledged public audit -- something the Brewers have always resisted.

Assembly Majority Leader John Gard, R-Peshtigo, and Senate Majority Leader Mary Panzer, R-West Bend, who pushed for the state audit, issued a joint statement saying the report will help restore fans' faith.

"From day one, my concern is to see baseball be successful in Milwaukee and Wisconsin," Gard said.

The Brewers, whose 2004 payroll in the $30 million range is expected to be the lowest in baseball, traded away their best player, All-Star first baseman Richie Sexson, late last year. This month, they put the club up for sale.

The family of baseball commissioner Bud Selig owns the majority interest -- 26 percent -- of the club.

The financial reviews shouldn't have any effect on the club's efforts to sell the team, Schlesinger said. A buyer will still have a chance to review the Brewers' books, he said.

The main reason for the audit was to soothe fans, he said.

"There was a lot of questions raised about the Brewers, both the business side and the baseball side -- misinformation, incomplete information and incorrect information about the Brewers' finances," Schlesinger said. "We realize the fans build this ballpark and they have a vested interest. But there was questions about the integrity of this ownership group.

"And an audit will show that the owners of this club have invested millions of dollars and have put money into this club to help with operations and have not taken money out of this club."

Such vindication, however, won't cause a change of heart for the Seligs to pull the club off the market, he said.

"The club is up for sale. That has not changed one bit," he said.

A copy of the deal between the Brewers and state auditor Janice Mueller obtained by The AP shows the Brewers restricted the audit in several ways.

The restrictions include:

-- Expenses and revenues won't be itemized but instead lumped into broad categories. For example, the local revenue category will include money taken in from tickets, concessions, parking and suites but won't list specific amounts from each.

-- Specific salaries won't be disclosed, although the report will show whether salaries are on par with major league averages.

-- Specific owners' ownership percentages won't be disclosed, although their identities will be reported.

-- Specific terms and conditions of partners or other related parties' loans to the Brewers won't be disclosed.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press