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Brewers Stadium Funding FAQs

I love baseball. I am a huge Milwaukee Brewers fan. I attend several games per year, I buy Brewers gear for my family, and follow the team every chance I get. I'm more than happy to spend my personal entertainment budget on the team I support. What I don't support is giving massive tax subsidies to profitable businesses with questionable value to taxpayers in return. As I see it, the only difference between FoxConn and the Brewers stadium is that thanks to Governor Evers, FoxConn now only gets tax credits for jobs they create and maintain. The Brewers stadium, on the other hand, gets our money no matter what. 

You may have questions about what's going on with Field. I know I did when I found out the team was asking for hundreds of millions of your hard-earned dollars. For a handy summary, check out my recent Larson Report on the topic. If you have a more specific question, check out the the FAQ below:

The stadium deal that passed before Miller Park was constructed included a clause that stipulated the stadium must be kept in the top 25% of all MLB stadiums. The stadium fund does not currently have enough money to cover ongoing maintenance and upgrades to meet this standard without additional cash. The team says it needs $448 million by 2043, in addition to the existing $87 million cash reserves. As recently as spring 2022, the first anyone had heard of the team needing more money for the stadium, only $100 million in public funding was expected.

Yes, the 5-county 0.1% sales tax for the stadium ended in 2020 after collecting $614.8 million since 1996, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB).

Your guess is as good as mine. The state passed legislation to end the sales tax and no objection was raised publicly by anybody involved with the stadium at that time.

Short answer - he doesn’t have to. The existing stadium contract says most maintenance and upgrades are the responsibility of the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District, not the team or its owners.

Essentially the state owns the stadium, via the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District, which is led by an appointed board of directors. Members are chosen by the Governor, Milwaukee Mayor, Milwaukee County Executive, and leaders of the 4 other counties that were part of the original sales tax (Washington, Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Racine).

The Brewers get to keep all revenue generated by stadium activities. Now that the 5-county sales tax has ended, the stadium district’s only source of revenue are lease payments (about $1.2 million per year) and Brewers license plates sales ($268,400 collected in 2019). As such, the district must largely rely on its existing reserves - currently $87 million - to maintain and upgrade the stadium.

The current lease ends in 2030. Governor Evers’ proposal to give $290 million in one-time state funds would have extended this lease until 2043. Official details of an alternative proposal by legislative Republicans are not yet finalized, but the price tag is expected to be as much as $698 million, and would supposedly extend the lease to 2050.

If no further public funding is committed, the team could theoretically sue the state for breach of contract, leaving taxpayers on the hook for an unknown sum of money, and the team could leave Milwaukee at the end of the current lease in 2030.

Theoretically yes, though currently only one stadium in Major League Baseball is privately owned (Cleveland Guardians). The rest are all owned by a public-private partnership similar to our situation. While major pro sports teams are assets that almost always grow in value over time, stadiums are considered liabilities which team owners refuse to take on.

Sadly, no. Despite the wildly successful public ownership model of the Green Bay Packers, all major sports leagues have banned this type of arrangement for any other team. However, there is nothing except the current lease deal stopping the stadium district itself from capturing more of the stadium’s revenue.

Yes and no. The players and staff, including visiting teams, pay income tax on income generated in the state of Wisconsin. This has led to an average of $10.7 million in tax revenue each year from 2012 to 2022. Sales taxes from stadium activities also generates revenue, though DOR does not have figures available to give the precise amount. Plus, if the Brewers did not exist, that sales tax revenue would simply have been generated elsewhere at one of the various other entertainment options Milwaukee has to offer.

Countervailing these revenues are the various tax exemptions the team enjoys. The biggest of these is their complete exemption from property tax, estimated at $699 million over 40 years. The team also has various sales tax exemptions, federal and state bond tax exemptions, and some income tax exemptions totaling $166.3 million.

Yes! The stadium district negotiates the lease with the team, but does so under parameters set up by the legislature. Any stadium funding deal can and should involve significant renegotiation of current terms to better protect taxpayers and provide some form of public benefit to the entire state - particularly Milwaukee area residents, who have footed most of the bill over the years.

It’s certainly possible, though such moves are extremely rare. It also may not make business sense to move. Milwaukee consistently ranks in the top half of the league in attendance (they were 15th through the All-star Break this year), despite being one of the smallest media markets, and consistently turns a profit. The team has grown in value from $223 million to $1.6 billion in the time Mark Attanasio has owned them. If the team announced a move, especially with 7 years left on their lease, Attanasio would stand to lose a ton of money, and a destination city would have to be found.

Finally, MLB's current collective bargaining agreement plans for 2 additional expansion teams, meaning in order for the Brewers to move, 3 new host cities, ownership groups, and stadia would have to be secured in just a few years.

In the long run, some sort of federal action is needed to prevent this kind of legalized extortion by pro sports teams to the cities and states they call home. In the meantime, we need to make sure that whatever public funding is outlayed to these teams and their stadiums, the people who live there get more than their money’s worth in return. Scholarly research on stadium financing has shown them to be poor investments for state and local governments overall. It’s time to change that!

I’ll be sending out a newsletter in the near future to outline some provisions that would make for a better stadium financing deal for Wisconsin. If you don't already receive e-updates from my office, CLICK HERE to sign up!