Bob Smizik: Unlike Pirates, Brewers put winning first

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There’s more than one way to run a baseball franchise. Consider the Pirates: They run a risk-averse operation, which is to say they are extremely cautious.

•Not even $25 million in additional national TV revenue, which will be there for the next eight years, has caused the Pirates to plunge forward with a commensurate increase in payroll.

• Nor has the second-highest attendance in team history.

• Nor has the prospect in 2014 of the highest attendance in team history.

The Pirates, by all indications, have record revenues and are not willing to spend. In adopting such a stance, they are going against the spirit, if not the letter, of a promise they made to fans three years ago. Shame on them!

That’s one way to run an MLB franchise. Here’s another.

The attendance of the Milwaukee Brewers last season was not the second highest in franchise history, as was the Pirates, but the lowest since 2006. The Brewers have lost half-a-million customers since 2011.

We know how the profit-first, win-second Pirates would react to such a scenario. The Brewers are doing pretty much the opposite. Despite operating in a smaller market than the Pirates, they are moving ahead with spending increases and are expected to have a payroll over $100 million, according to Rich Schlesinger, the team’s chief operating officer.

Here’s what Schlesinger told MLB.com:

"The way I look at it, you look at the growth of the industry in general, and how we're doing in revenues locally, and it makes sense. Mark [Attanasio, the Brewers' principal owner] has always said, 'Listen, I'm going to take every cent I can and invest it back into the stadium and invest it back in the players.'

Imagine that! An owner who wants to put revenue back into the team and not toward paying down debt.

Here’s more from Schlesinger:

''The fans over the year have supported us, the national television dollars are increasing, the health of the game from a revenue perspective has never been greater, so it's only natural and fitting that we use those monies to invest in our product.’’

Wow! An owner who acknowledges times are good and is willing to pass along the good times to the fans.

No doubt, some Pirates fans think the Brewers are crazy. They probably think Attanasio is some kind of lunatic who’s heading for dead-certain bankruptcy. That’s how badly the Nutting-Coonelly-Huntington propaganda machine has fooled Pirates fans.

The value of the Pirates has doubled, if not tripled -- adding hundreds of millions of dollars in value -- since the Nutting family became involved. But some suckers, er, fans still are concerned about the family finances. They worry the team will spend unnecessarily on player salaries. What a fantastic con job. That segment of the fan base deserves the label as the most gullible in MLB.

Here’s more from Schlesinger, whose duties are roughly the same as Frank Coonelly, the Pirates president.

''I think fans have a correct instinct that, yes, payroll should be going up. With the way our team is constituted, we should have a payroll that stretches us. I don't want to have a payroll where it's very comfortable that, no matter what happens, we're going to have a positive income number.

''I want us to be challenged as a business … and we go for it, and take risks and stretch ourselves from a financial perspective in a rational way. That's what our fans want. I want to be in that position, to stretch ourselves financially so we have a chance to win a World Series."

Conned Pirates fans are probably thinking: What a stupid way to run a business.

They almost have it right. What a great way to run a business.


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