A recent article on the economic impact of Milwaukee Brewers fans who don’t live in the five-county metro area has revealed some substantial but not very startling figures. The UW-Milwaukee study, apparently commissioned by MLB, reports that nearly 50 percent of fans at Brewers home games reside in places outside the five-county area, and that those outstate baseball fans contribute as much as $263 million per year to the local economy. Certainly, many fans come from Madison, the state’s second-largest city, along with bigger cities like Appleton, Eau Claire, etc. But the cumulative economic punch that these fans provide for the Brewers baseball club, the great city of Milwaukee and its surrounding suburbs is monumental.
Attendance is up at Brewers games in large part because of the retractable roof at Miller Park. The roof is sometimes lamentable but never useless. Miller Park opened in 2001 and has been a boon to the Brewers in their ability to attract fans from outside the metro area. The roof convinces fans that their drive (or journey in whatever fashion, be it train, donkey or bicycle) will be worth it because a baseball game will be played. The significance of the guaranteed game cannot be overstated. Back when the Milwaukee Braves were in town in the 50s and into the very early 60s, Milwaukee was the only nearby major-league town other than Chicago for baseball fans in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, the Dakotas and beyond, going west.
Once the Twins arrived on the Minnesota prairie in 1961, Milwaukee’s market got a whole lot smaller. The Twins organization, strangely enough, originated as the Kansas City Blues of the Western League in 1894, and then was the Washington Senators and/or Nationals organization from 1901 until it moved to Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, MN, in time for the 1961 season. Of course, five years after the Twins arrived in Minnesota, the Milwaukee Braves ownership group that purchased the team in 1962 completed its quest to move the team to Atlanta and the fatter paychecks there. When Bud Selig was successful in bringing MLB back to Milwaukee in 1970, the newfangled Brewers found themselves boxed in by Detroit to the east, Minneapolis-St. Paul to the west and two teams in the Windy City directly south.
As happened to the Green Bay Packers when the Minnesota Vikings came around, territory in Minnesota, Iowa and the Dakotas that may have previously leaned towards the Braves was splintered or fell completely to the new Minnesota franchises. There is certainly nothing wrong or unnatural about this process. However, Milwaukee suddenly needed Wisconsinites a lot more than it did previously.
County Stadium was a great stadium for a time, but it suffered from housing poor Brewers teams for much of its existence. It began to wear and tear, and was susceptible to freakish weather even during the best months, not to mention snow, rain and abundant unpredictability in April, May and September. Not that northern weather is unique to Milwaukee, but bad weather is a definite turnoff when one thinks of travelling many miles just to get to the ballpark.
Those Brewers fans who go to Miller Park often (and perhaps are commuter fans themselves from outside the five-county) probably greet this study’s results with a shrug of knowing confidence. I’ve noticed it myself. When I go to Miller Park, I’ll often see evidence that vehicles are there from not only other states but elsewhere in Wisconsin. In addition, as is part of the great tradition of Brewers baseball games, I often talk with fellow fans when I’m at games and I very often talk with people who are not only not Milwaukeeans, but live hours away from Brew City.
What this boils down to is some real data and recognition that the Brew Crew is supported by fans from all over the place, not just the five-county Milwaukee area. Madison, Eau Claire, La Crosse, Green Bay, the Fox Cities and many other Wisconsin cities and towns deserve a shout-out and a very gracious thank-you for coming down and packing Miller Park. Brewers fans in neighboring states and everywhere in the USA and the world: thank you. Miller Park’s roof saves the date but all fans together make it happen. We are Brewers Nation.