SBJ/November 17 - 23, 2003/This Weeks Issue

Turmoil over budget envelops Brewers

The likely departure of popular Milwaukee Brewers CEO Ulice Payne, coupled with revelations that the franchise will try to cut player payroll by as much as 25 percent in the coming months, had fans in an uproar last week, even as the club was hoping to build momentum for its 2004 sales efforts.

The storm clouds began to gather early in the week, after Payne publicly expressed concerns about the 2004 budget approved by the Brewers' board of directors, which recommended that payroll be cut from $40 million to $30 million, if possible. By week's end, it appeared that the dispute likely would end his one-year tenure as CEO.

Payne publicly questioned potential cuts.

Payne could not be reached for comment.

Payne, an African-American who had been managing partner of a law firm, was the first — and to date only — minority-group member to head an MLB franchise.

Rick Schlesinger, executive vice president of business operations for the Brewers, said he was surprised by Payne's stance, pointing out that Payne not only had voted for the plan, but had pitched it to investors.

"My question is, and remains, why was Ulice supportive of something for nine months and then, in the space of a couple of weeks, he completely disavowed the very plan he helped put together?" Schlesinger said.

Brewers patrons had another question in mind: What happened to the club's assertions that it would field a competitive team if it landed public funding to build Miller Park?

That was the question raised by local columnists and editorial writers, some of whom suggested that the best remedy might be for MLB Commissioner Bud Selig to sell his controlling stake in the team, which has been held in trust since he was named commissioner in 2000.

"For all the controversy, the fact remains that the [business] plan is sound," said Schlesinger, who stressed that the club would shrink payroll all the way to $30 million only if it could get back value in trades. "It recognizes that cosmetic patching of the team right now may help us sell a few tickets, but it's not going to help improve the team on the field in 2004."

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