With an extreme makeover of Bernie’s chalet and concessions changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Milwaukee Brewers are embarking on a new season at the newly rebranded American Family Field.
The name change from Miller Park to American Family Field was not a surprise: it had been announced in January 2019, when the Chicago-based brewing giant Molson Coors decided not to renew its original 20-year naming-rights deal. Miller Park opened in 2001 as the replacement to County Stadium. The original Miller brewery, dating back to 1855, is within eyesight of American Family Field bowl seating. 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 Molson Coors, now headquartered in Chicago. So what’s happened here is pretty basic: naming rights controlled by an out-of-town corporation were replaced by a deal with a Wisconsin-based corporation; the privately held American Family Insurance is headquartered in nearby Madison.
Still, it was a little jarring to see the old Miller Park logo replaced by the new American Family Field logo, with a design based on the ballpark’s distinctive trusses needed to support the three-section retractable roof. Those design themes are carried though the ballpark. And yes, Miller beers are still sold at the ballpark.
One good move by the Brewers: even though many MLB teams have scaled back their commitments to draught beer, you’ll still find craft beer stands open at American Family Field. (They were added as part of Miller Park concessions changes in 2017; we covered them here and here.) With a lesser capacity due to COVID-19, concessions are similarly downsized; some stands weren’t open during our visit, and others were converted to pick-up points for mobile-app ordering. Still, the major stands were offering those Sconnie basics—brats, curds, etc.—and with a reduced capacity the concourses were manageable in our limited time entering and exiting the press box.
Along with the ballpark rebranding, the Brewers made several physical changes to American Family Field. The most obvious: a new chalet for Bernie Brewer in the far reaches of left field. The new chalet is brighter with a Swiss design. The team put together a string of humorous videos to highlight the makeover; you can view them here.
And even though Miller is not part of the new branding, Molson Coors figures in the 2021 ballpark experience. The new Miller Lite Landing, located in the left-center field Loge Level, features three rows of seating with tables, a viewing deck with various charging stations, cold drink holders, flat-screen high-definition TVs and a new selfie spot with a seven-feet-tall Brewers logo made of Miller Lite cans. (AmFam Field is a tremendously good place for selfies, between the exterior statues and Hall of Fame and a slew of interior spots.) Also new as part of the Molson Coors partnership: a Terrapin Bar located on the Field Level in the right-field corner, housed in a decked-out shipping container and featuring Terrapin brands on draft and in cans.
Otherwise, the Brewers are hewing to the MLB operating guidelines: cashless transactions (in an interesting twist, the team is working with a local bank to exchange cash for prepaid credit cards), mobile ordering, digital ticketing, mandatory mask usage, social distancing and a ban on tailgating. Honestly, it’s the ban on tailgating that hurts the most.
Look for plenty of changes in American Family Field operations as the season progresses. Right now the Brewers are operating at 25 percent capacity under City of Milwaukee guidelines, but have already reconfigured the seating to allow for more two-person pods by breaking up some two- and four-person pods. Nearby Dane County has lifted many capacity restrictions on outdoor gatherings and mask mandates as of April 7, which is good news for Madison Mallards and Forward Madison fans. We’ll see if Milwaukee follows suit down the road.
UPDATE: Since this article was posted the Brewers announced a return of tailgating at American Family Field, beginning with next week’s series against the Chicago Cubs (April 12 – 15). Tailgating will be allowed at single vehicles for those sitting in the same seating pod. Fans will need to remain in the immediate vicinity of their vehicle. Parking gates will open three hours in advance of the game, except for 6:40 p.m. weekday games in which parking gates open two and a half hours in advance.
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