The Milwaukee Brewers have just seven games remaining at Miller Park in the 2017 regular season and, sadly, only three of them are likely going to feel like home games. From Thursday through Sunday, the Brewers “welcome” in the NL Central-leading Cubs and the accompanying droves of fans from Illinois who wish to experience Major League Baseball in a venue with modern plumbing.
For four of the home season’s final seven dates, Miller Park is likely to be transformed into “Wrigley Field North,” despite the Brewers’ efforts to debunk that moniker a few years ago. The six largest crowds at Miller Park this season to this point include four Cubs games; Opening Day; and Sunday, August 13, when the team gave away Bob Uecker Magic 8-Balls. Brewers/Cubs games generated the two largest home crowds of the season on July 29 and 30, sparking a story from Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune about Cubs fans taking over the facility.
Brewers GM David Stearns said all the right things in his quotes in that story, but the fact remains that hostile home crowds during Cubs series are noticeable for the team, clearly apparent on broadcasts and actively serve as a deterrent to many Brewers fans. Local fans’ decisions to avoid the ballpark and/or resell their tickets for Cubs games create a snowball effect, causing more fans to do the same.
Of course, to a point, turnabout is fair play here: Many of the Wisconsin sports fans turned off by pro-Cubs crowds at Miller Park may be the same fans who follow the Packers on the road, or attempted to drink all of the alcohol in Provo, Utah during the Badgers’ recent trip to BYU. Nonetheless, there are steps the Brewers could take in response to Cubs fans’ demand for Miller Park tickets if they saw fit to do so.
Option 1: “Mini-plans”
One option popular among college teams hosting opponents that draw well would serve as an impetus for Cubs fans to think twice about coming north, and an easy revenue opportunity when they do: selling Cubs-Brewers tickets exclusively as part of “mini plans” that are only available if purchased along with other non-Cubs tickets. If Cubs fans want to come to Miller Park to root for their team, that’s fine…as long as they’re also willing to buy tickets for a Pirates or Reds game, preferably one scheduled for a weekday afternoon in April.
Of course, there are drawbacks here. Deterring fans (regardless of team affiliation) from buying tickets has the possible impact of depressing ticket sales, making Miller Park a more attractive environment during Cubs series by replacing Cubs fans with empty seats and unsold tickets. It would likely also drive up demand on the resale markets, which would be great news for people willing to flip their tickets to Cubs fans. The Brewers, however, would not see any money from those transactions.
Option 2: Lean in
If the Brewers are going to have to deal with a road game atmosphere for a handful of games each season, they might as well take a page out of the Bucks’ playbook and maximize their revenue while doing so. The Bucks’ routinely charge higher ticket prices for games against marquee opponents: For 2017-18, their “Elite” tier home games include the Lakers, Bulls, Spurs, and of course the Cavaliers and Warriors, whose fans they’ll likely throw up on the “Bandwagon Cam.”
To a point, the Brewers have already started making efforts to make more money off of visiting Cubs fans. Parking rates outside Miller Park used to increase for “marquee” games, for example, but now the team has ditched that distinction and specifically lists what it means: Opening Day, weekends, and Cubs games. Ticket prices for this weekend’s Cubs series are also a step higher in many sections than they will be for the Reds series that follows.
The Brewers could, however, consider taking it several steps further and test what the market will bear. Tickets at Miller Park could go up by tens of dollars or more in most sections and still be less expensive than comparable seats at Wrigley Field. The Brewers could also consider limiting promotions and giveaways during Cubs’ series: It’s unknown what the team and/or its sponsors are spending giving away a “Bill Schroeder Disco Pose Bobblehead” on Saturday, but many or most of them will likely make their way to Ebay via an Illinois address. There’s likely money to be made by producing a bare-bones baseball experience for Cubs fans at a price approaching or exceeding double the usual ticket costs.
Of course, in an ideal world, Brewers fans would simply “take back” Miller Park, show up in droves this weekend, and reclaim the facility as a positive setting for the Brewers. If that’s not possible, however, then it would be hard to blame the organization for doing everything they can to profit from the visitors.