Miller pays big to name stadium

Miller pays big to name stadium

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Commitment doesn't stop clock on today's deadline

JODIE DeJONGE

Associated Press

MILWAUKEE — Rushing to beat today's deadline to come up with $90 million to keep construction of a new Milwaukee Brewers stadium on track, the team Thursday announced Miller Brewing Co. had committed $41.2 million for the right to name the stadium Miller Park.

Miller and the Brewers said the deal was the single largest naming rights pact ever reached by a major league baseball team and would help the struggling team remain in Milwaukee.

"Today is a watershed day in the history of the Milwaukee Brewers," Brewers President Bud Selig said in a statement. "Miller has stepped up to the plate in an historic way to ensure that the new ballpark is one of the finest in the world."

It was still uncertain, however, whether the team would meet today's deadline for coming up with the rest of the money it committed for the $250 million retractable roof ballpark when it won legislative approval for a five-county tax hike.

The team last month was unable to secure collateral for a $50 million state loan that was also part of the legislative package. The stadium board appointed to oversee collection of the one-tenth of a percent sales tax hike then set a March 22 deadline for securing a financial package.

If the team failed to meet the deadline, board chairman Robert Trunzo said collection of the new tenth-of-a-cent stadium sales tax, levied since Jan. 1, would be suspended. Trunzo also was authorized to shut down nonessential design work on the project.

Team executive Mike Bucek declined to discuss the

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team's other efforts to secure the needed millions, saying only "we're very confident" of meeting the deadline.

He promised more details today, but declined to say when an announcement would come.

Miller intends to give the team $1.2 million this year, then pay $2 million a year for 20 years beginning in 1999 for naming rights and exclusive signage inside and outside the ballpark, said Patricia McKeithan, Miller vice president of corporate affairs.

The team still would need a loan to meet its terms of the stadium finance package, stadium board Vice Chairman Craig Leipold said.

But that won't include a loan from the Wisconsin Housing & Economic Development Authority as initially proposed, said Fritz Ruf, WHEDA's executive director.

Trunzo was expected to review the Brewers' financial arrangements over the weekend before the stadium board meets again in Milwaukee Monday, Ruf said.

A Milwaukee newspaper reported Thursday that the Brewers expected to announce today that they had obtained a $50 million loan from its bank, NationsBank, of Charlotte, N.C., with the help of loan guarantees from nine or 10 Milwaukee businesses.

The Brewers, struggling to obtain the necessary financing, have resisted opening their books, citing league rules. The club has few assets but the franchise itself and doesn't own its current home, 43-year-old Milwaukee County Stadium.

The Brewers have already pledged future revenue as collateral for other loans not related to the stadium.

Selig, the acting commissioner of baseball, has been careful not to publicly threaten to leave Milwaukee. But he has repeatedly said the team cannot survive here without the new stadium. He is a leading critic of the spiraling salaries that have made it hard for a team in one of baseball's smallest markets to compete both on and off the field.

Baseball owners approved a revenue-sharing plan Thursday in Phoenix that would give some small-market teams an additional $4 million this season if the players' association agrees.

"Revenue sharing, if nothing else, has become part of the way we live, part and parcel of our business," Selig said.

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