Brewers diversity pointman charged with exposing the community to the Miller Park baseball experience
There are those who believe Thad McGrew has one of the best jobs in the city of Milwaukee.
McGrew gets to watch Major League Baseball players perfect their craft on a regular basis. His job allows him to attend Milwaukee Brewers baseball games for free.
And he gets to mingle with Milwaukee Brewers’ fans 81 times a year, including fans who make up a who’s who of the civic, political and entertainment worlds.
But McGrew doesn’t look at his job through those rose colored prisms, although he feels privileged to hold the position as Manager of Emerging Markets for the Milwaukee Brewers.
One of the highpoints, he’ll tell you, is introducing prospective new fans to his world of professional sports.
He particularly enjoys exposing first time visitors, especially impressionable youth, to Miller Park for the first time; watching the smiles that explode across their faces or that glint in their eyes when they witness their first homerun.
“Essentially, my primary responsibility is to increase diversity in our fan base. It’s consistent with what the entire league is doing–to improve diversity; it’s part of a league-wide initiative both on and off the field.”
McGrew has been with the Brewers for six years. He was chosen after a national search and brought with him experience in marketing and a strong reputation for building cultural bridges.
His mission with the Brewers is simple: Reestablish the minority fan base that has seemingly dwindled since the heyday of legendary former Brewers Manager George Bamberger the Brewers’ team he led that was affectionately known as, “Bambi’s Brewers.”
Upon his hiring, McGrew found himself challenged and his curiosity peaked by the relatively small Black fan base. His research revealed Milwaukee once hosted a large and enthusiastic Black fan base. But it dwindled a dozen years ago.
There are a myriad of reasons why professional baseball’s Black fan base has dwindled in Milwaukee and nationally the last 20 years.
But the pendulum is slowly moving back towards the positive side, with McGrew and his counterparts throughout baseball giving it an extra nudge.
The first project on McGrew’s “to-do” list was upgrade the team’s social marketing merchanism to address changing local demographics.
McGrew is the first to admit his task has been a little easier because of the Brewers’ on-field success in the last few years, along with the fact Miller Park is considered among the league’s premiere facilities. The retractable-roof stadium offers amenities seldom seen in a ballpark, including a children’s area, a rock climbing wall (which is new this year) and a dozen fine eateries.
And it doesn’t hurt that the Brewers have garnered national attention for investing in and promoting the historical achievements of the old Negro Leagues.
A Negro League “Wall of Fame” at the old County Stadium has morphed into a major exhibit (which is housed at Holy Redeemer Institutional COGIC), and an annual baseball game which pits the Brewers against a National League team adorned in the uniforms of the Negro League team from their respective city.
The Brewers don the uniforms of the Milwaukee Bears, a short-lived Negro League franchise that, nonetheless, made its mark here.
Since it’s introduction, the annual Negro League Tribute game has become a major social event for the Black community.
The Brewers work closely with former Negro League player and Milwaukee native Dennis Biddle, and Holy Redeemer, to ensure the success of the weekend tribute, which includes a tailgate party, the ball game, and the enshrinement of two former Negro Leaguers at Holy Redeemer’s Athletic Conference Center.
After the ball game, the uniform jerseys worn by the Brewers are auctioned online with the proceeds going towards a special fund for retired Negro Leaguers. This year’s game will be held on July 20.
“The tribute game adds an extra educational element to the world of baseball here in Milwaukee,” Mc- Grew noted. “We get the chance to introduce Negro Leaguers to the community; to connect (the community) to history. We factored in a tailgate event with entertainment and food that makes it a unique experience.”
But Thad’s efforts are not limited to that one event. His goal is a fill the seats with minority fans on a regular basis.
“Milwaukee’s demographics offer a great opportunity to expand our minority fan base. When you can go to Milwaukee’s urban community you’ll see an ocean of Brewers’ memorabilia, from hats to tee shirts.”
That fan base is growing by leaps and bounds, McGrew said. “But we want to move beyond just the recognition, we want to get them down here to the stadium, let them see what we offer.”
The “Milwaukee Brewers/Miller Park Experience” is the preeminent family outing, and it’s value-added at so many levels, he explained.
The Brewers are offering a variety of ticket packages this year with the expressed intent of introducing new fans to the stadium. The packages include a game and tailgating package that is an exceptional value.
Several Black organizations and churches took advantage of similar opportunities last year, and most are seeking to replicate the experience this year.
For example, congregants from Christ the King Church are still talking about their unique experience.
Last season, members arrived early for a tailgate party in the Klement’s Sausage Haus, where they enjoyed food, music and fun in the family friendly environment. Later, they filled a section of the stadium where their loud cheers and laughter resonated throughout the ballpark.
The church is planning a return trip–or two–this season.
“That’s what it’s all about,” McGrew exclaimed. “We offer a total experience. Something for everyone. It’s good, wholesome fun at an affordable price. Experience it once, and I’m sure you’ll be hooked,” McGrew concluded.