Brewers’ Pitch To City’s Black Community Paying Off

By Don Walker
Updated: July 6, 2007

Prince Fielder (left) and Rickie Weeks

Prince Fielder (left) and Rickie Weeks

MILWAUKEE — With Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks and Bill Hall in the lineup most days, the Milwaukee Brewers have a strong African-American presence on the field.

As a result of their success, the team’s front office appears to be making strides in its ability to attract African-American fans to Miller Park.

During the last home stand, there were increasing numbers of African-Americans, particularly younger fans, in the stands.

Rick Schlesinger, the team’s executive vice president for business operations, said the team has no hard numbers but believes there are more African-American fans coming to the ballpark this season.

“We’ve had other people make that observation, and I think there is some merit to it,” Schlesinger said. “We haven’t done any kind of scientific analysis to check the demographic makeup. But we will.”

Schlesinger said there were a few reasons for the increase. “There’s no substitute to having three prominent African-American players on your team, given baseball’s struggles in that regard,” Schlesinger said. “In addition, they are very popular and very good players. They are a key point of our team. And whether you read about it in the newspaper or see it on television, they are featured prominently.”

Baseball itself has seen some demographic changes on the field. More Latino players are on rosters, and teams are looking to the Far East for good ballplayers. At the same time, the number of African-American players has dropped. Research indicates that only 8.4% of all major-league players are African-American, believed to be the lowest percentage in many years.

The Brewers, aware of the Latino and African-American market in Milwaukee, have tried to reach out to both demographic groups. “We have made a concerted effort in the last few years to reach out to emerging markets, the African-American market being one,” Schlesinger said.

The Brewers have an ongoing arrangement with WMCS-AM, a predominantly African-American radio station, and there is some Brewers programming on the air there, Schlesinger said. And for the second year, the Brewers held a Negro League tribute game at Miller Park.

“All of this is a way for us to get into a community and highlight the African-American history in Milwaukee,” Schlesinger said. “We also get into the neighborhoods and talk about the Brewers and perhaps use that as a springboard to get people to come to Miller Park for a game.”

This summer, the Brewers also are going into city neighborhoods for Brewers-sponsored block parties. The first block party was held in the district of Common Council president Willie Hines, who represents a predominantly African-American district. “People can meet our players and get excited about the Brewers.”

Schlesinger acknowledged that, historically, African-Americans have not come to Miller Park in large numbers. That is often the experience in other major-league cities, something that Major League Baseball is trying to remedy.

“If you talk to other executives on other teams, the one thing that’s interesting is most executives say they are not doing as much as they would like to do,” Schlesinger said. “With the Dodgers and the Angels, clearly they are appealing to Hispanic fans. And we are doing our own initiatives. But even as baseball will say it is doing a lot for African-Americans, it has not yet seen the fruit of their labors.”

In Milwaukee, the Brewers are involved with the league’s Reviving Baseball in Inner City neighborhoods (RBI). In addition, the team is involved with the Boys and Girls Club of Milwaukee to appeal to minority youth.

But there is plenty of work to be done. Earlier this week, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) criticized baseball for what it said was baseball’s lackluster effort to boost black participation.

“No one gives themselves an A,” said Schlesinger, referring to the owners of major-league teams. “It’s something we talk about a lot at owners’ meetings. It’s high on the commissioner’s radar screen because we talk about it at every owner’s meeting.”

Related Posts