Things are about as bad as they can get for the Milwaukee Brewers. The bottom feeders of the MLB’s National League Central division were already headed for yet another missed postseason when their franchise star, Ryan Braun, was suspended without pay for the season for his connection to the Biogenesis scandal. Mr. Braun and several other players were linked to an anti-aging clinic in Miami that allegedly provided them with performance enhancing drugs.
Braun’s fall from grace isn’t just a blow to the season; it’s a long-term problem for the Brewers brand. A (disputed) NL MVP in 2011, the left fielder was meant to be the face of the small market franchise, with a $51 million contract that runs through 2015. So the Brewers have decided that their fans have been through quite enough.
The team announced Monday that it would make amends for its losing, scandal-ridden season by giving every ticketholder who shows up to a home game for the remainder of the season a $10 voucher, to be used toward merchandise, food, or future tickets. Fans can also accumulate vouchers toward bigger purchases.
“This past week has been an admittedly difficult time for everyone who loves the Milwaukee Brewers,” team Chairman and Principal Owner Mark Attanasio wrote in a letter to fans Tuesday. “We share your frustration and disappointment with the news of Ryan Braun’s suspension…. We want you to know that we take this matter very seriously.”
“We believe everyone at the Brewers is accountable to each of you every day, and it is a team effort to meet that responsibility,” he continued.
Based on the Brewers’ average attendance this season (31,000-plus fans per game), both ESPN and Yahoo! have pointed out that the promotion will cost the Brewers about $3.6 million; when he was suspended, Braun was due a little over $3 million for the remainder of the season. But the Brewers say that the giveaway was already in motion before the suspension was handed down, freeing up the salary money.
"We were finalizing something like this to give back to our loyal fans just as news of Ryan's suspension hit," Brewers CEO Brian Schlesinger told ESPN’s Daren Rovell.
The Brewers aren’t new to asking for forgiveness through freebies. In 2005, they made the final game of the season free to all fans. Last fall, Braun and Brewers pitcher John Axford gave away 5,000 seats for the last game of the 2012 season. And the Braun mea culpa isn’t over: The team says that the $10 voucher giveaway is just the first in a series of promotions to keep the Milwaukee faithful in their seats for the remainder of the moribund 2013 season.
Thus far, they’ve done a pretty good job of it. Despite being among the worst teams in baseball and playing in the MLB’s fourth-smallest media market, the Brewers have been in the middle of the pack in terms of fan attendance (ranking 17th out of 30 teams). And they have some of the best prices in the league, with $1 tickets available for every game but opening day. Mr. Attanasio’s letter was met with an outpouring of goodwill from fans, who left comments like, “Love the Brewers! Always have, always will! We are more than just Ryan Braun and we will persevere!!!” and, “As always Mr. Attanasio handles things with class. He is right. It’s time to stop focusing on Ryan Braun and remember the other amazing players on this team who help make Braun look good.”
No telling yet if other MLB teams will follow the Brewers’ lead. Punishments from the MLB should come down soon for several other high-profile players linked to Biogenesis, and in some cases, suspensions could have postseason implications. Ball clubs around the league could be issuing mea culpa promotions of their own in the near future.