'Welcome to Budweiser Park, Home of the Wisconsin Brewers'
What might have been from the push to keep the Brewers in Milwaukee
The opening of Miller Park in April 2001 was the culmination of a near-14-year drive by the team to replace Milwaukee County Stadium. It was an often tumultuous process that aroused a number of proposals for the stadium and its financing. But it also spurred a couple of little-remembered suggestions that would have greatly altered the identity of Brewers and their home ballyard.
The first rumblings for a new stadium started back in 1987, when the Greater Milwaukee Committee undertook a study that would eventually recommend that County Stadium be replaced with a modern facility. By 1990, the Brewers had proposed that they would pay for the construction of a new $120 million ballpark if the public sector picked up the infrastructure costs required by the project –estimated at $60 million. In April, 1991, with the state about to introduce its first-ever scratch-off lottery tickets, a baseball-themed lottery ticket was proposed as a means of raising the $50 million. The plan was to have the Brewers in their new home by 1993.
But the use of state funds to finance what would be a privately-owned stadium brought about some contentious debate in Madison. Legislators from outside the Milwaukee metro area were wary about sending their dollars to the city for a project few of their constituents would ever use. Some, as a means of making the deal more palatable, suggested that the team change its name to the “Wisconsin Brewers.” The moniker was first proposed by Rep. Harvey Stoner, who pitched the idea to Brewers VP of marketing Dick Hackett. Hackett was less than enthusiastic about the idea. “It hasn’t been considered.” He said of a name change. “I would say never.” Rep. Judith Robson of Beloit seconded the change as a requirement of any state funding for the new park. The Milwaukee Journal also backed the plan, writing in an editorial, “If Gov. Thompson is accurate in saying the Brewers are a statewide team with statewide support, they should have nothing less than a statewide name.” The Sentinel, however, mocked the idea. In addition to pointing out that Robson has cited the New York Yankees as a state-named team, they blamed Madison’s alleged anti-Milwaukee bias as the true motivation behind the proposal. “But,” the paper wrote, “considering how much money city taxpayers send to Madison, Milwaukee State Capitol has a certain ring to it.”
The new stadium drive lingered until 1994 when the Brewers began to insist that they could not survive in Milwaukee without assurances of a new ballpark. In the summer of 1995, as the team and local pols tried to secure some kind of state financing for the project, the name change issue reemerged. Rep. Mark Meyer of La Crosse wrote a letter to Gov. Thompson, urging him to support a rebrand should state funds go to the stadium. “We already have the Florida Marlins, the Colorado Rockies, the Minnesota Twins and the Texas Rangers,” Meyer wrote. “Why not the Wisconsin Brewers?”
His plea, however, fell on deaf ears. That fall, the state assembly and senate voted narrowly to create a five-county sales tax to help finance the stadium. The selling of the stadium’s naming rights would also provide a portion of the building funds. Just after the approval of the tax, an article appeared in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that caused a mild panic in the Cream City. Anheuser-Busch, producer of Budweiser and owner of the St. Louis Cardinals, was “intrigued” by the possibility of acquiring the naming rights to the new stadium. Placing the Budweiser name on a stadium to be located within sight of the Miller Brewery would have been a bold move – and one not unlike other A-B incursions into Millerland. In 1981, the brewery bought the rights to the giant, rotating square sign atop the Clark Building in downtown Milwaukee. Miller waited for seven years for A-B’s lease on the space to end before they bought it up themselves (it still today shows an ad for Miller products). A-B also sponsored the University of Wisconsin marching band and built a large pavilion at the state fairgrounds. They even advertised in the Brewers game programs, even thought their products were not sold in the stadium.
Fortunately, Budweiser Park became no more a reality than did the Wisconsin Brewers. In March 1996, Miller paid over $40 million for naming rights to the stadium. Their lease on the title expires in 2020.