Madison-based American Family Insurance will replace Chicago-based MillerCoors as owning naming rights to Miller Park, as the firm and the Brewers work to strengthen their Wisconsin ties with a 15-year deal.
The new naming-rights deal will kick in for the 2021 season. No word yet on the new name.
MillerCoors has held naming rights to Miller Park since it opened in 2001, but since then the brewing giant has gone through ownership changes and a noticeable lack of ongoing commitment to the Milwaukee market. The original Miller brewery is within eyesight of Miller Park, dating back to 1855. Miller High Life was introduced in 1903 and Miller Lite in 1975, forever giving the baseball world a series of unforgettable commercials featuring the likes of Bob Uecker and his seats in the front row. But MillerCoors ceased being a Wisconsin-owned concern in 2002 after a buyout from South African Breweries, first under the SABMiller name and then in 2008 when SABMiller and Molson Coors were combined to form MillerCoors, now headquartered in Chicago. Last fall the firm announced layoffs in the midst of declining market sales and was involved in a lawsuit with Pabst Brewing Company, arguing that decreasing capacity meant MillerCoors would not be able to fulfill a contract-brewing agreement. The lawsuit was settled.
Meanwhile, American Family Insurance has emerged as an aggressive leader in the Wisconsin high-tech economy, moving far past its traditional base as a retail insurer to a venture capitalist and promoter of entrepreneurial initiatives. StartingBlock Madison opened in 2017 with significant support from American Family Insurance, serving as a hub to various Madison entrepreneurs and startups. American Family Ventures, meanwhile, has been a major player in backing Wisconsin startups.
Plans to enter the Milwaukee market with a similar program was cited as a reason for the privately held firm entering a deal with the Brewers, as American Family Insurance announced plans for a downtown area multi-purpose office and community space. The office will contain high-tech work such as data analytics and business innovation, American Family agent recruitment and development, and areas focused on community issues and investment, in addition to other possible functions, according to a press release issued by American Family.
“This new partnership represents an important and powerful message to customers, our employees and American Family agency owners: We are a financially strong, customer-driven and community-minded company,” said Jack Salzwedel, American Family Insurance chair and chief executive officer.
“We are excited to elevate our partnership with American Family Insurance, a heritage Wisconsin company that has been a sponsor of the Brewers since 2001 and one that shares our core values,” said Brewers Chairman and Principal Owner Mark Attanasio. “We look forward to all of the benefits this new partnership will bring to both of our organizations and to fans of the team.”
Attanasio, by the way, has a connection to downtown Milwaukee past the Brewers ownership: he’s also a part owner of the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals, a solid draw at downtown’s UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena. Using sports facilities as economic-development tools seems to drawing new investment in downtown Milwaukee, as witnessed by the businesses moving near Fiserv Forum.
So while the loss of Miller Park has been lamented on social media–change is hard!—the Brewers ended up making a deal with a solid Wisconsin corporation committed to growth and entrepreneurship. MillerCoors is a legacy of the past; American Family Insurance is the future.