Mark Attanasio is the US sports tycoon who took a shine to Norwich City. The club’s newest director and minority shareholder purchased £10m in shares earlier this season, and on his recent flying visit to Carrow Road confessed he does not intend to stop there. 

But how is his long term ownership of the Milwaukee Brewers viewed Stateside?  

Dan Goroff was the director of ticketing for Major League Baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies. The highlight of his 28-year career was the Phillies’ 2008 World Series win, beating Attanasio’s Milwaukee in the play-offs.

Norwich City fan Goroff offers expert insight into Attanasio’s transformation of the Brewers, where he may be looking to add value to the football club, and what greater involvement in the Canaries could look like, based on his 18 years as an MLB owner. 

You can watch an in depth, exclusive chat with Goroff below, or on our Pinkun channels.  

Attanasio’s impact in Milwaukee and similarities with Norwich City 

A little historical context is probably necessary. He bought the Milwaukee team in 2004. In 2001, the Selig family who owned the team before him and Bud Selig, who was the original owner, was elected commissioner of baseball by the other owners. So he turns the team over to his daughter and son in law, who I have met on a few occasions.

And they were building a new ball park, as almost every major league team was in those days to bring it up to date to enter the 21st century. There was a real drive within the sport to improve the baseball side, the physical training, the fitness side, but also off the park commercially. Things like the ability to sell luxury suites, the ability to improve the concession area and so on. All those things happened in 2001.

And what they did, they made an important decision, which was a real game changer and maybe perhaps one of the reasons why he decided to buy the team. Wisconsin, which is where Milwaukee is, can be bitterly cold in the winter time. And the baseball season starts in April. There's often snow on the ground, it could be freezing and that is very inhospitable to players and fans. They decided to spend money building a retractable roof on the ball park, which took the weather element completely out of play, and which allowed fans to watch the game comfortably in shirtsleeves. In fact, if they wanted to, in the middle of a snowstorm if there was one outside.

Because the roof was closed they could play a game and not have to suffer through rainouts, which is the bane of people like me especially in baseball who worked in ticketing.

On the park they were a miserable team, in terms of winning and losing. In the entire decade of the 1990s they had a losing record. For 11 consecutive years. There's 162 games in a regular season, 81 home, 81 away from the beginning of April to the end of September, and beyond if you're lucky enough to be in the playoffs into October. Then they built this stadium, or developed this stadium, and as a result of the excitement of the new stadium their attendance increased in 2001 from something like 15,000 people per game. Which over the course of a season equated to 1.5m ticket sales, which is a very low number, and unsustainable in terms of trying to be competitive.

And they increased that in the first year to about 2.8m. So at an average of $30 a ticket you're talking about an increase of $45m just in ticket revenue alone, not to mention concessions and so on. Nonetheless, the team did miserably in that year. And the following year, attendances dropped, the way it often does in new parks when the enthusiasm lasts for a period of time.

It is always the performance of the team that determines whether you can continue to sell tickets. And 2002 was the worst year in their history. That's probably around the time he may have looked to get involved. I don't know how long it takes to seal a deal of that scale. But once he took over, they started winning again.

There were other factors in play no doubt regarding the infrastructure and the existing staff but within two years of him taking over they started winning and winning. From that year on until the present, with a few exceptions, they have won consistently. Of course you get a few bad years on the park, but they would be averaging 85, 86 wins, on occasion up in the high 90s. And in baseball, unlike, say, Premier League, when a team can run away and win 15 matches in a row, if you win 60pc of your games in baseball, you're doing really well. And you're probably going to go far in the play-offs. And they hit that level two or three times, and did very well and continue to do well.

And given the fact that Milwaukee is a town with not many more people in Norfolk, from what I understand, I think it has like 800,000 people or something like that. It is a rural state, you probably don't have to go too far outside of town to hit nothing but farmland, you probably have more cows than people within 100 miles. They don't have a large, what I would call, geographic fanbase imprint. And yet they've been averaging over 2.5m people a year for 15 years. I recall they even reached 3m in some seasons, which is really the gold standard.

I know they used to give us awards in our annual meetings if your team hit 3m tickets, it is a real achievement, and to do it in that environment, with so few people, even more so. They did an incredible job in attracting fans.

You have to say maybe the prior administration started that by re-developing the ball park but you have to give credit to him and his ownership. What I don't know is who in the old regime stayed on and worked in vice presidential directorships or whatever and how many of his own people he brought in.

Regardless, from the time he took over the performance both on the field and at the box office, which are interrelated, has been incredible. You can't sustain a winning record unless you generate the revenue when you're talking about maybe $100m a year in ticket revenue on 35,000 attendances. It is a remarkable achievement. It's remarkable in any environment, but particularly in what we call a small market environment that Milwaukee is in.

And it's very similar to the situation Norwich exist in. Not too many people in or outside baseball would know who he is. He is very low profile. So again it is hard to know if he is a hands off owner who hire’s good people and let’s them get on with the job without interference. Ultimately, he deserves credit one way or the other for what happened.

I have heard some of his interviews and I think he's pretty proud of it and talks up how he enjoyed beating the big guys at their own game. There are baseball teams that have an awful lot more money, who can afford to pay a lot more to free agents, but there's no guarantee that those people are going to perform any better just because they have a higher salary.

They've done remarkably well. And their payroll has always been in the lowest third of Major League Baseball, as far as I can tell. Certainly up to this past year.

I would say there's a great deal of respect for the Brewers throughout baseball, as a person who was in a ticket world in baseball for my entire career, I certainly respect what they have done in a key area for any organisation. They've done a great job. They weren't very far away in the last couple of years from making the playoffs, and possibly going far into the playoffs. And it could very well be back in the mix again next year.

But one thing is pretty sure, they draw a lot of fans and those fans are going to buy a lot of beer and they're going to eat a lot of sandwiches, and sell a lot of merchandise to fill the coffers. And they're going to have anything up to 12,000 cars parked around the stadium, probably at $25 a pop. So you know, there's a lot of revenue that can be generated by a successful franchise, and they're clearly a very successful franchise. 

Growing revenues and the commercial crossover from his success in baseball 

Actually, you have to separate what isn't translatable, such as from my understanding broadcast revenue, in terms of that collective bargaining and how rights are sold in English football compared to baseball. That sounds scandalous to me in terms of the share each club is entitled to with regard to the media rights.

In MLB there is a fairer share between the 30 teams and that is something Attanasio would understand. But he will have done his homework and know what he is getting into. But it would appear some of the revenue streams he can rely on in baseball are not going to exist.

So you are then left with areas of commercial activity that might translate, whether it be what he has done in Milwaukee or from baseball more generally. I don't doubt for a minute they haven't given this some thought. But for me, in order of importance, the first thing you look at is the feasibility of increasing capacity at Carrow Road.

I think a team that sells out 26,000 tickets or so each game could probably expand their capacity by 5,000 to 7,000. Obviously that comes at a cost in the short term and there is the structural challenge of building new stands or re-developing stands, or sections within stands, and if you could do that you include luxury suites. I can't emphasise how valuable those suites are, even to a community the size of Norwich, and how much revenue is generated by the sale of those seats. At the same time, you might be able to create group rooms where you could go out to church groups, school groups, businesses, and have them bring 50 of their customers or their employees or their students and have a day at the ball park.  

Those types of revenues are pretty important. If you can't do it inside, you have the capacity to use the footprint around the stadium and turn that into some sort of fan festival.

In Philadelphia we shut down the street next to our park, mainly during the play-offs, and have entertainment, food and drink, merchandise, games for the children. Anything where people would want to spend a few hours before or after a game. It is getting away from the idea you have 45 minutes of a game, then a 15 minute break, and then another 45 minutes. You are not going to sell much in that 15 minute period, whether you have wonderful stands or not.

In this day and age I see some form of luxury seating where people order food and beverage by phone and have it delivered to their seats in the stadium. I don't know if that's an option. These are all ideas you can be sure many sporting organisations consider to maximise revenue. I don’t think it costs an awful lot, if you have the footprint around the stadium, to get fans there a couple of hours earlier and get them in the mood. 

Naming rights to the stadium is a big thing in America. For years, it was Miller Park in Milwaukee, after the famous beer. Now it is an insurance company. I look at the teams in England and they are not proud. They have sponsors on shirts and branding around stadiums. You could strike a very lucrative deal with perhaps a well known company in the area, and you write into any deal they are responsible for changing all the signage around the stadium, even down to the napkins in the restaurants.

They would pay a considerable amount of money to have their name in lights and mentioned during every telecast broadcast. There are 124 professional teams across the major sports in the US. Almost all of those fields are named. I understand there might be traditionalists who feel it would be sacrilegious to change anything to do with Carrow Road, but it is well known throughout the country, and easily identifiable.

They can make a lot of money by selling the naming rights, and I would be surprised if that’s not on his list. 

Merchandise is massive. I can tell you when the Phillies had eight games in this year’s play-offs at home they had 30,000 fans all wearing their Phillies’ baseball hats. They actually have to bring truckloads of merchandise in after midnight, every night, to re-stock the stores because you're talking millions of dollars in sales. It is all licenced by Major League Baseball and they get a cut of it. And of course, the team itself gets a significant amount of revenue.

I've had a look at the football club’s commercial range online, but there are certain items I haven’t seen I know that sell well in the States. I’m sure this time of year it can be very cold at Carrow Road. What about big heavy parkas or winter coats with the Canary emblem on it? In the States we have those jackets with the letter branding you associate with representing your high school team. 

Going back to what I said about using the facility itself, you don’t want a venue that is only in use for 25 or 30 matchdays a year and empty the rest of the time. When we opened our new ball park we created a department with three full-time staff assigned for non baseball events. We had weddings, religious ceremonies, Christmas parties, some on the field itself, some in the party rooms. You can guarantee his team in Milwaukee have great experience in how to sell their park.

Allowing a fan to walk out onto the pitch is an enormous emotional and psychological advantage. I have seen grown men cry when they step on our field sometimes because they have never got to stand on an MLB field before. It is an emotional event for a lot of people and if you can play on that you can use that to sell, to some degree.

You've got to figure out a way to get people to come to the park, whether it's inside or outside. I don't think it'd be very difficult to do and I'm sure that the Brewers have people who could help, assuming it's not being done now. 

The future direction of travel for Attanasio and Norwich City 

My take on it? What he appears to be doing is he wanted to get involved in British football. He took a look around and realised, for example, he didn't have the $7billion that the Glazers are reportedly asking for Manchester United. So he has looked at it and said, ‘Where can I gain entry at a modest investment?’ By ‘modest’, I mean compared to what some other American owners of other sports have paid in the Premier League. He doesn't have that kind of money.

Someone told me he doesn't have (Roman) Abramovich level money. But by our standards he is fairly wealthy and I think he sees this as an interesting opportunity, because it's a club that has proven itself in the past to be very successful, very well run, with an opportunity to get involved with a team that could conceivably make it to the Premier League and stay there for a while.

Then he could have an opportunity to beat the big boys, just like he did in baseball. If he decided that this was what he wanted to do, and I gather there is a path to possibly taking a bigger shareholding, and he gets to the same point as others who have paid an awful lot more money then it makes sense.

Even in a worst case situation, if he felt he had to get out he probably gets his investment back. I actually think talking about the wealth of any sports owner is not entirely accurate. There are plenty of examples of people who have thrown money at these things and not succeeded. I’m not saying if he was in a position to help to sign a player he could not do that. He's a competitive person. You have to be a competitive person to do what he does in business, baseball or sport in general.

I’ve never met the guy, but my sense is he is a very shrewd operator. He probably looked at a lot of other opportunities that didn't have the foundations Norwich have. Whether or not the team will get promoted this year or next year or ever again, who knows. But in any case, he feels it's worth the risk.

And I think he's going to be all in on doing whatever he feels he can do to help. And he'll be very supportive of the existing staff that they have. And maybe he'll bring some people in, but I think he would understand that baseball is not football. While there are some transferable skills, maybe in the back office functions, maybe not in the football department. He's smart enough to know that and he has said as much. It'll be interesting to watch.

I don't think any of us are in a position to say, with any certainty, what's going to happen. But I would say that the team will be successful enough for him to want to continue growing his share. And what happens after that? The deck is stacked against the Norwich’s of the world when it comes to playing in the Premier League. Everybody understands that. Unless the rules of the game change and it is not just the top six or eight the league want to promote, then it's a tough climb. But it's clearly a challenge he would appear to relish.

They seem to be in a position at present where you grow talent, and then you have to sell it. And that's not a sustainable model to compete at the Premier League level. Smarter people than I have wrestled with that, and I'm sure they're a lot of them are currently sitting in the boardroom of teams in the Championship right now. How do you survive against all odds?