MILWAUKEE -- No longer taboo, a sponsorship deal with a casino is in the cards for the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Brewers announced a presenting sponsorship agreement with Potawatomi Bingo Casino on Thursday, part of the team's expected double-digit percentage gain in sponsorship revenue. And despite the economy, other areas of the Brewers' business are looking up too.
"We are very sensitive to what's going on, and we're very careful in what we're looking at," said Rick Schlesinger, the Brewers' executive vice president for business operations. "But I will tell you that ticket sales, suite sales, sponsorship -- we're seeing growth in all areas."
But just as Milwaukee's first playoff appearance since 1982 involved some late-season drama, the club's latest off-the-field victory came with complications. The Brewers had to tread lightly given the nature of Potawatomi's business.
Major League Baseball officials have relaxed some long-standing restrictions on clubs' ability to make deals with gambling-related businesses, but officials remain sensitive to the issue.
And with good reason: The 1919 "Black Sox" gambling scandal nearly tore the sport apart, and a sports betting controversy involving former Cincinnati Reds star Pete Rose cast a shadow over an all-time great that remains unresolved.
Hall of Famers Willie Mays (1979-85) and Mickey Mantle (1983-85) were banned from baseball by commissioner Bowie Kuhn for their association with Atlantic City casinos, a decision reversed when Peter Ueberroth succeeded Kuhn. But today, teams are free to strike sponsorship deals with casinos under MLB guidelines and can do other limited deals, such as state lottery promotions.
"That's sort of a reflection that baseball understands that if things are done intelligently, they don't impact the integrity of the game and they can still generate revenue for the team," Schlesinger said.
MLB chief operating officer Bob DuPuy said the league didn't have concerns about the Brewers' deal.
"There is no sports book associated with Potawatomi, casino gaming is now part of the entertainment landscape in 40-plus states and a number of Clubs have had advertising and sponsorship relationships with local casinos," DuPuy said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
But there are some things the Brewers can't do.
Schlesinger said the team can't run promotions that directly tie it to gambling, such as allowing fans to cash in their ticket stubs for casino chips.
And Potawatomi probably won't be promoted extensively by Brewers players, even though Schlesinger believes it would be OK for players to promote the casino's theater and restaurant.
"We are following all MLB guidelines," Schlesinger said. "They're detailed, and we're following them. That doesn't mean I wouldn't like to see them relaxed, but the reality is they have been relaxed throughout the years. Baseball has a sensitivity, understandably, to gambling. I think now in the 21st century, I think teams are mature enough and the environment is such that teams can have close sponsorships and partnerships with casinos."
The Brewers aren't announcing financial terms of the multiyear deal, but Schlesinger said it was second in scope only to the naming rights deal for Miller Park. Potawatomi's presence helps make up for the loss of Mercedes-Benz, which did not renew its Brewers sponsorship.
Schlesinger said the new deal -- which will plaster the casino's logo everywhere, including the top of the dugout and on tickets -- shouldn't dilute Miller's branding.
"The success of our business translates directly into how we're able to pay players, which translates directly into performance on the field," Schlesinger said. "And Miller, and Potawatomi, and all the local businesses, the one thing they keep talking about is they want a successful team on the field."
Schlesinger says the team has several front office jobs open and intends to fill them, even as other sports properties lay off workers.
About the only major sign that the Brewers are scaling back because of the economy is a decision to put off a major scoreboard upgrade until at least 2011.
"So far, I would say we've had a very successful offseason in sponsorship sales," Schlesinger said. "In talking to other folks around the league, most teams that we've talked to are looking at either flat [sales] or reductions in sponsor revenue. And we have budgeted an increase -- and we're on pace to exceed that."