Revenue ($115.9M) dwarfs $27.5M payroll

Updated: May 6, 2004, 1:51 PM ET
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. -- The Milwaukee Brewers were $133 million in debt at the end of 2003, but their revenues have increased more than 70 percent since taxpayer-financed Miller Park opened, according to two reports released Thursday.

The family of baseball commissioner Bud Selig owns the majority interest in the team, which is up for sale.

Several state lawmakers called for a full-fledged public audit, something the Brewers long resisted, when spending on players' salaries decreased after the new stadium was built in 2001. The Brewers opened their books to state auditors and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

The Legislative Audit Bureau's limited-scope review of the team's finances between 1994 and 2003 found the club had $67.7 million in revenues in 2000. That jumped to $115.9 million in 2003, their third season in Miller Park.

Still, operating expenses increased from $80 million in 2000 to $103.8 million in 2003, the report said.

"Overall, for the people who had questions about the club's finances, this answers those questions," said Rick Schlesinger, the Brewers' executive vice president of business operations.

A copy of the deal between the Brewers and state auditor Janice Mueller obtained by The AP in January shows the Brewers restricted the audit in several ways. One restriction: Expenses and revenues wouldn't be itemized but instead lumped into broad categories. For example, the local revenue category would include money taken in from tickets, concessions, parking and suites but wouldn't list specific amounts from each.

State auditors said they found no evidence to show that club resources had been used during the review to buy ownership shares to benefit club owners.

According to the review by the commerce association, the Brewers averaged $53.2 million in operating revenues during the seven-year period before Miller Park opened. The team averaged $110.1 million in revenues during the first three years Miller Park was open. That increase was due largely to a $39.8 million increase in revenues such as gate receipts, concession sales, parking, and local broadcasting and advertising, that review said.

Senate Majority Leader Mary Panzer, one of the lawmakers who called for the review, said it shows the team faces "significant financial challenges even with a new ballpark."

"These challenges are likely to continue, especially if the product on the field does not improve," Panzer said in a statement.

The state audit also found that the combined annual pay for Selig, his daughter, Wendy Selig-Prieb, and her husband, Laurel Prieb, never exceeded $735,500 in any of the last 10 years. Selig-Prieb is chairman of the Brewers' board, and Prieb is a team executive.

The Brewers issued a statement saying the team's losses and debt reflect general trends in professional baseball. Industry debt grew from $751 million in 1994 to $3.6 billion in 2003, the team said.

The statement said the team continues to rebuild its baseball roster through a strong minor league system.

The payroll for the Brewers' 2004 Opening Day roster was about $27.5 million, the lowest of the 30 major league teams. Through Wednesday, Milwaukee was 13-14, tied for last place in the NL Central.

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.

But the Brewers' payrolls have declined the last two seasons and the club hasn't had a winning season since 1992. The team traded away its best player, All-Star first baseman Richie Sexson, late last year.

Assembly speaker John Gard, who called for the state review, said the team's financial situation shows the Brewers' best hope is new owners.

"Unfortunately, the kind of ownership size, structure and resources that worked for decades is a horse-and-buggy in today's turbocharged baseball marketplace," Gard said.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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