Signs are in the works for Miller Park’s transition to American Family Field. (Getty Images)

Name change coming to Milwaukee ballpark after 20 years with Miller

After playing their 2020 home games in an empty ballpark, the Milwaukee Brewers are transitioning to American Family Field, the new name for their 20-year-old stadium. 

Wisconsin-based American Family Insurance signed a 15-year naming rights deal for Miller Park in early 2019. The change officially takes place Jan. 1.

The financial terms were not disclosed, but the company is expected to pay about $4 million a year, according to sports consultants.

The deal extends to American Family Fields of Phoenix, the Brewers’ spring training facility in Maryvale, Ariz., which took effect for the 2020 season.

In Milwaukee, the Brewers are fabricating the signs and marks tied to their new naming rights partner. That expense of updating hundreds of pieces of inventory typically runs in the low seven figures.

The rebrand includes painting the American Family Insurance logo on the ballpark’s retractable roof.

“It’s expensive … and that’s why we do these deals deliberately and thoughtfully,” said Rick Schlesinger, the team’s president of business operations. “We’ll amortize it over the course of the deal. We want to make sure the signage is compatible with the ballpark architecture.”

Major League Baseball’s plan for 2021 remains in flux, and Wisconsin is setting one-day records for COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, but as it stands now, the Brewers are moving ahead with the expectation of a full season with no restrictions on stadium capacity, Schlesinger said. 

The Brewers’ first home game is scheduled for April 1 against Minnesota.

MLB played a shortened 60-game regular season in 2020. 

American Family’s deal, signed well before the pandemic, includes a force majeure clause should the coming season be affected, Schlesinger said. 

Such clauses address the issue of certain events beyond anyone’s control prohibiting teams and business partners from fulfilling their obligations, which could potentially extend the terms of those agreements.

As part of activating American Family’s deal, the Brewers are developing a “unique ballpark experience,” according to Schlesinger. “My lawyer hat would say, ‘What the heck does that mean?’” he said. 

“We’ve purposely left it vague,” Schlesinger said. “We wanted to give some thought to it, and whether that gets implemented for 2021 or ’22 is still to be determined. Fan behavior and operations are going to change, not just as we get out of COVID but longer term. We want to make sure that whatever we design is taking into account whatever lessons we’re learning from the pandemic in terms of how we interact with our fans.”

For MolsonCoors, which owns Miller Brewing Co., the Brewers negotiated changes for 2021, given the shortened season in 2020, Schlesinger said. The hometown brewer remains a major sponsor at American Family Field after holding the park’s naming rights since it opened in 2001. 

The beermaker’s agreement extends to Miller Lite Landing, a group space in left field that was set to open for the 2020 season. There are some fixed seats but it’s mostly a standing-room area, Schlesinger said. 

The multitiered landing is supported by a full-service bar, half-moon tables, drink rails, phone charging stations and televisions. 

It should be a busy space when fans occupy it. In July, before the 2020 season started, some video posted on the Brewers’ official Twitter account showed multiple home run balls falling into the retrofitted area during Brewers batting practice. 

“We didn’t intend it this way, but it’s perfectly designed for a post-COVID type of world,” he said. “You can literally social distance in this space. It’s a way for people to get a great view of the ballpark and mingle in a more flexible and casual environment. Those are the real changes for 2021. We’re not trying to do more than bring back the Landing and the name change.”