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Owner Mark Attanasio says Milwaukee Brewers operated “at a loss” last year

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A justification for the payroll slashing this past offseason.

Texas Rangers v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The whispers started early in the offseason, when Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported that the Milwaukee Brewers “will undoubtedly have a smaller payroll” in 2020. It wasn’t long after that revelation that one of Milwaukee’s local beat writers reported that he had it “on good authority” that the team finished “in the red” during their most recent fiscal year. Now that Spring Training has started, and the current Opening Day payroll projection is 20+% lower than it was to begin last season, owner Mark Attanasio himself has come out and said that his franchise operated “at a loss” last year:

“Franchises get into trouble when they overspend and end up with a mountain of debt and then go into a long period of rebuild,” Attanasio told reporters yesterday at the renovated American Family Fields of Phoenix facility. “We don’t want to dig a hole for ourselves. There is nobody we missed this offseason because of price that was on our list. We did want to sign Yasmani Grandal, so, maybe one.”

Of course, as many have pointed out, it seems highly unlikely that the team actually lost money in 2019. It would not difficult for the team to present an operating loss on paper while still bringing in a significant amount of cash.

The only way that we can know for sure is if the Brewers were to open their books to the public, which they will obviously never do. But it certainly seems unlikely that the team actually lost money based on this thread of research regarding the team’s reported revenue figures over the last decade. With the owner offering no further evidence other than what he stated to reporters, the idea of “operating in the red” certainly makes for a convenient explanation to fans regarding why the payroll was slashed in such a dramatic way during the most recent offseason. It is interesting, though, that owner basically admits to getting outbid and missing on Yasmani Grandal.

All of this seems to be coming at an interesting time. The stadium tax is finally set to sunset for the five-county area around Milwaukee and Miller Park is now entering its 20th season of existence. The owner is claiming that the team operated at a loss during a season that featured a playoff berth and nearly 3 million in paid attendance coming through the gate, and a recent economic impact study (that relied largely on figures provided by the team that were not audited) suggests that the Brewers are a huge boon to the area. Might this be the beginning of the team putting out feelers for a new stadium — and new public funding — in the Cream City sometime during the next several years?