The Milwaukee Brewers, which suffered through a second straight losing season and endured the fourth-biggest drop in attendance in Major League Baseball in 2010, needed just eight days to announce they would freeze ticket prices at Miller Park in 2011. They needed a little bit longer to make the move that really got Wisconsin fans interested in returning to Brewers games.
The Brewers acquired ace pitcher Zack Greinke from the Kansas City Royals on Sunday, December 19 for a package that included four prospects. Within the next 36 or so hours, the Brewers sold 1,100 season ticket packages, almost triple the 400 season ticket packages they had sold since the end of the regular season Sunday, October 3. And by Wednesday, December 22, the Brewers’ new season ticket holders had increased to more than 1,500.
“Those are brand new account holders whom I’m convince wouldn’t be buying if not for the current Greinke deal,” Brewers executive vice president for business operations Rick Schlesinger told the Journal-Sentinel newspaper on Tuesday, December 21. “Since October of this year, we’ve had about 400 new accounts. You saw in 36 hours that we had more than double the number of new accounts sold, You have to attribute that to Zack Greinke.”
The excitement is understandable. Greinke, who turned 27 shortly after the season ended and is signed through 2012, won the American League Cy Young Award in 2009, when he went 16-8 with a league-best 2.16 ERA and 1.05 WHIP as well as 242 strikeouts. But the Royals’ losing wore on Greinke last year, when he went 10-14 as his ERA almost doubled (to 4.16) and his strikeouts fell by 61 despite pitching just nine fewer innings than in 2009.
Greinke demanded a trade after the season, but his no-trade clause (which reportedly included 15 teams) and a perceived desire to remain in a smaller city (Greinke missed most of the 2006 season due to depression) reduced the market for his services and made it possible for the Brewers to swoop in and grab a player who normally would have been headed to someone like the New York Yankees, which badly need to acquire an ace after losing out on free agent Cliff Lee.
The Greinke trade continued a successful winter for the Brewers, which have finished under .500 in each of the last two seasons after ending a 26-year postseason drought in 2008 and whose average attendance fell by 3,221 fans per game last year. Two weeks before the Greinke blockbuster, the Brewers acquired pitcher Shawn Marcum from the Toronto Blue Jays.
With Greinke, Marcum (who recorded a 3.72 ERA and 1.18 WHIP since 2007 despite pitching in the loaded AL East for the Blue Jays) and holdover ace Yovani Gallardo, the Brewers will have one of the best rotations in the National League and are immediate contenders in the NL Central, where there is no big market superpower. The Cincinnati Reds are the reigning division champions and the Brewers reached the playoffs as a wild card just two years ago.
The Brewers were also experiencing better-than-anticipated ticket sales following their announcement Monday, October 11 that ticket prices would be frozen for 2011. The Brewers enjoyed brisk sales of their four-game holiday packs and expected about 85 percent of their season ticket holders to renew for next season — a number that Schlesinger now believes will rise past 90 percent.
“That’s not a bad number given two consecutive sub-.500 seasons,” Schlesinger told the Journal-Sentinel, referring to the initial renewal rate. “But with the Greinke trade, I am expecting our renewal rate will be over 90 percent. We’ll know more in January when payment deadlines are due.”