Brewers COO Rick Schlesinger manages hope and change for 2015
Photo credit: Scott Paulus/Milwaukee Brewers
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Believe it or not, Rick Schlesinger, the COO of the Milwaukee Brewers — a franchise that Forbes recently valued at about $565 million — says he wrestles with many of the same daily challenges facing any business executive, including how to deal with ever-changing laws, how to handle increasing costs and expenses, and how to attract and retain talent.
“How do we attract people with social media?” asked Schlesinger, who will be the featured speaker at IB’s Icons in Business breakfast on Dec. 17 at the Madison Concourse Hotel. “How do we market and gain more customers? How can we understand them better and create a more positive experience for them? Learn from them?”
“[We need] to make sure we’re being fiscally responsible and giving Doug [Melvin] all the resources he needs to stretch the payroll to sign the players, whether our own or free agents.” — Brewers COO Rick Schlesinger
Schlesinger oversees the Milwaukee Brewers’ business affairs, including sponsorships, marketing, ticket sales, guest services, public and community relations, and broadcasting and communications, but his primary role is to help drive revenue that General Manager Doug Melvin can use for payroll and personnel.
Several stakeholders are invested in the Brewers’ success — everyone from team owner Mark Attanasio to the fans who buy tickets and team merchandise — and pleasing them might have gotten a tad more difficult after the heart-wrenching tumble the team took at the end of the 2014 season. After leading the National League’s Central Division for most of the season and then winning only nine games in September before missing the playoffs altogether, the collective hiss spewing from victory balloons across all of Brewer nation was deafening.
After the season, the corporate office immediately got to work dealing with the fallout. The team’s hitting coach, Johnny Narron, was let go and replaced this past October with Darnell Coles, while first-base coach Garth Iorg was dismissed as well. The team decided to retain Manager Ron Roenicke as well as Melvin.
Fixing what’s broke
Just a few months after the season ended, fan enthusiasm remains high, said Schlesinger. “Based on some polling we’ve done and some early [ticket] renewals, we’re expecting some pretty positive results,” he said of the upcoming season. “[Fans] have a lot of confidence in ownership and management — in particular, our baseball operations side — to address the challenges and problems, fix them, and provide a team in 2015 that has all the benefits of the first five months [of 2014] and not the last month. That’s our mission.”
As with any business, the key is assembling the best team possible. For the Brewers, that’s Doug Melvin’s territory. The winter meetings, which Schlesinger does not attend, are not as transaction-driven as in the past, he says. “In the old days, that’s where most of the player transactions occurred. Nowadays ... a lot of transactions happen at all times, through texting, phone, emails, right up through spring training. I always tell people, until we break camp at the end of March, the roster will be in a state of flux.”
If player transactions require a particularly significant financial commitment, several corporate staffers, including Schlesinger, may be brought in. “Everything gets analyzed,” he said. “[We need] to make sure we’re being fiscally responsible and giving Doug all the resources he needs to stretch the payroll to sign the players, whether our own or free agents.”
Schlesinger won’t talk specifics when asked about the Brewers’ financial outlook. “Our first goal is about winning a championship and getting the best team on the field that we can. Making money or losing money in any particular year isn’t the primary focus. Obviously, we want to be financially responsible and not make decisions that will put the club in a financially difficult position.”
The team has been fortunate to have an active and involved owner and a fan base that turns out in droves. The result has been a reliable revenue stream that gets funneled into Miller Park improvements and player salaries.
“It’s a great time to be a fan of baseball, to own a team, and to be a player,” Schlesinger said. “Revenues are going up so much, and players are certainly earning quite a bit of money to play. Our challenge is to make sure we provide a safe, affordable, fun atmosphere here at Miller Park. We’re blessed with a great ballpark, so that part hasn’t been too difficult.”