By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Aug 13, 2003 at 5:55 AM Photography: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography

Hang in there, Brewers fans, help is on the way. Before you punch your monitor and walk away -- we know you've heard that countless times in the last decade -- step back and let us tell you why. A new sheriff is in town. And after nine months, Brewers CEO Ulice Payne has a plan -- a baseball and a business plan -- to get the Crew back on track.

We caught up with Payne this month at Miller Park and found that he is a man who really does get it, and his experience as a Milwaukee business leader, attorney and former athlete, gives him the credentials to build a winner. It's hard not to be excited when sitting down and talking to Payne; his honesty, charisma and intelligence practically beam from this gentle giant. Read for yourself in this latest edition of Milwaukee Talks:

OMC: It's been almost a year since you took over the helm of the Milwaukee Brewers. How is the team being run differently?

UP: Well, I wasn't here before, but I do hear a little bit from those who were here. We continue to look to improve. There were a lot of good things about ways the ball club was run. There were some things that needed to change. We think we're trying to do it better. Is it exact? I don't think it's exact. We do think that we've established some core objectives and everything goes to those core objectives. Everybody in the operation knows, and we reaffirm on a regular basis, what the core objectives are. That may be the biggest change here.

OMC: What are those objectives?

UP: We've got three, pretty simply. One is to maximize attendance. For a baseball club, 60 percent of our revenue comes from the home gate -- admissions, which drives your parking, your food and beverages, your merchandise, which brings a value to your signage in the building. How do you do that? There's a strategy, which we'll talk about.

The second objective is to rekindle the emotional connection between the fans and the club, because without the fans, you have no franchise. And the fans must be emotionally connected, because that's what sports are about. Fans like to see their guys do what the fans want them to do and fans like to win and to watch players who try hard.

The third is maximizing the benefits of the new labor agreement. The new agreement has some revenue sharing provisions, some debt restrictions and some provisions that relate to the maximum salaries of teams. If we manage our business properly, we will be the direct beneficiary of that labor agreement. So we can't just lose money and borrow money. We can’t just agree to pay our players big-time contracts without some consequence.

OMC: It sounds to me like you're running the Brewers like a business. Is that because you have so much business experience and you're not making all the decisions with just your heart?

UP: We all have different experiences we bring to the table. This is the business of baseball, but it's still a business. I've been fortunate to be able to sit on the corporate boards and advise clients as a corporate lawyer about business issues. So I do want to use all those experiences here. I do think, from the fans' perspective, too, that they like to feel like there's some ownership in their sports teams. Whether it's the Chicago Bears fans or the Green Bay Packers fans or the Raiders fans, they like to feel they know about their club. They know the payroll, they know the president, they know the good ticket prices, the TV information. That's what I want to bring. Maybe we're a little more open about it. I do think it's important, because if I let you know about our business, you will support our business.

OMC: Earlier this summer, you traded Alex Sanchez and released Jeffrey Hammonds. At that moment, I think Brewers fans knew that this was your team. What kind of message did those moves send to the players and to the fans?

UP: We made a promise to the fans in the fall. A "contract with our fans," we called it. We can't necessarily win every game, but we can try to win every game. We found, by listening to our fans, what they were most disappointed with in the previous year. They thought the players didn't care. They didn't live here, you didn't see them in the off-season. They would give up if they were down 2-0 in the second inning. The first thing we said was we are going to be one of the hardest working teams in the Central Division. And anybody who wasn't playing hard, wasn't going to play.

Lo and behold, sometimes you make statements you don't realize are going to come right back on you. Within about 60 days, the Alex Sanchez situation arose. Coaches worked with him and talked to him. The general manager talked to him. But we had to walk the talk, you know what I mean? And we did. Hammonds was the same way. Jeffrey is a nice guy, but he had a history of injuries. Here's my highest-paid player, and he was out over an ankle sprain. In the meantime, the players who were playing hard brought some success. So it was a question of keeping him on because we were paying him, or keeping him on because he was helping the team. If he wasn't helping the team, and we didn't think he would, even though we were paying him, it was better for the team.

OMC: On paper, the Brewers are marginally better than they were last year, and that's not saying very much.

UP: No.

OMC: But baseball guys see a team that is playing harder, has better morale and team leadership. Does that come from Ned Yost and Doug Melvin?

UP: I talked to the players in Spring Training in a closed clubhouse session, and I know Ned and Doug have done the same. We have a baseball plan. We're trying to share it with our players and our fans. When you lose 106 games, like we did last year, and when you have 10 consecutive losing seasons, something had to change! No one could claim that everything was going well here. What you're seeing is the effect of setting that tone early in the season, and sticking to it. People usually respond to that environment.

OMC: I was at the game where you sat in stands in a yellow, "Buckethead Brigade" t-shirt, then you slid down Bernie's Chalet. It almost reminded me of something Mark Cuban might do. Are you the kind of team president that Milwaukee fans can relate to?

UP: Well, I hope so! Because nine months ago, I was a fan. I never thought I'd be in this situation. I've never had this opportunity before. What people see is Ulice Payne. I go to Bucks games, and I cheer. I go to my daughter's games, and I cheer.

I've been in Milwaukee most of my life. I came here as a 18-year-old, and so I do feel that I can identify with the people of metro Milwaukee. Sitting in the stands, going down Bernie's slide, those are things that people would like to do. I'm a fan, too, and I'm going to do those things. I hope that even though I'm president and CEO, I will never lose touch of the emotional connection.

OMC: One year into this job, no one is calling for your head, which is good.

UP: So far!

OMC: But people have been very supportive. Do you think people are more patient or do they believe that you have a plan?

UP: First of all, the baseball club has to win. People follow their sports franchise because they live vicariously through these athletes who want to win. I think the fans want to see progress toward winning. Unto the extent we've shown progress, I think that's been positive. I was involved in the stadium board, and we had the taxpayers in five counties paying (for Miller Park), so we have another responsibility, I think. That's to make it the people's park. To make people feel comfortable here. Even if you're not an avid baseball fan. To have "Mr. 3000," the Bruce Springsteen concert coming, kids' soccer, trick or treating here -- I feel a central responsibility, and I think some of this is resonating in the marketplace, to make sure that you don't have to be a baseball fan to want to come to Miller Park. I hope we continue that message so more people use the building, because we use it 81 games a year. That's really it. I hope the Brewers are a community partner.

OMC: On the field, people are saying that good things are just around the corner in 2005 and all these tough years are about to come to an end …

UP: That's right! Believe it! There are a couple of ways you build a baseball club. Most successful franchises in baseball build them from within. Because of the labor agreement you have control over players for about six years. You can develop your own, and you have a chance to establish yourself on a consistent basis. We're very fortunate because right now we see in our double-A -- which is one of the tougher leagues -- these guys will be here in '05. We had eight All Stars selected from that team. Our single-A team, with Prince Fielder and Tony Gywnn down in Beloit, they're one game out of first place right now. Fielder is leading the league in home runs, RBIs and is third in the league in hitting. We see real players in the system. Our goal is to bring them along slowly and '05 should be the time when four or five of those young men should be on the ball club.

OMC: But until then … we still have players we're being told to root for. Will anyone of them be around? And why should we be watching Brewers baseball?

UP: One reason you should watch them is because you're going to see a hard-working team. But two, you'll see us improve. There's a slight improvement from last year, I think so. I hope to have even more of an improvement by the end of the year. I think next year will be an improvement of this year. Ned Yost was hired in November. He didn't know any of these players. The only coach we had back was Billy Castro, the bullpen coach. I feel the coaching staff will be better next year. Our GM came in at the same time I did. He didn't know the roster or the scouts. We are really just getting our own budget together for the first time, our staff for the first time.

OMC: Let me ask you a couple of non-baseball questions. Milwaukeeans know about your work as an attorney and with the Bradley Center. But fill us in about the years after your basketball career ended at Marquette?

UP: I was drafted by the Pistons and I got cut. It was the first time in my life that I didn't make the cut and that was very traumatic for me. I went to work selling municipal bond insurance for a company downtown called MGIC. Then I went to law school. After three years of law school, I clerked for a federal judge. I did that for a year, then I went to a law firm, as a securities lawyer. After two and a half years, I was appointed the Commissioner of Securities for the State of Wisconsin. I ran a government agency, regulated the investment business here. I got a lot of exposure and experience. When I was there, I began to study in a Masters of Law program at the University of London. I used to commute from Madison to Heathrow. After three years of being commissioner, I returned to private practice. I continued my international exposure. I worked in London, off and on. I've been in 27 countries as an international lawyer.

I always did civic stuff, mainly because my parents always volunteered. I married my wife, who I met at Marquette. We have two children and I spend a lot of time with them. For the most part, all my experiences started out being a business administration graduate, a law graduate and working in the government. After a while in these organizations, I moved up to the boards. I did that in law business, too. I was chair of American Bar Association's International Practices section. I was chair of the Wisconsin Bar's International section. I've always volunteered for things and have been very fortunate to meet a lot of good people along the way. I always believed that the more you give, the more you get to give. I'm a witness to that.

OMC: You've lived in Milwaukee for years, and in a certain sector, you've been a pretty visible guy. But now people must recognize you in the grocery store or at the gas station. What's that like?

UP: That's good, as long as they're Brewer fans! It's funny, because I've always been in a visible light, but more so in this job. No doubt about it. Doesn't really change me much, though I'm more sensitive to how much I expose my children. Otherwise, I'm pretty much a people's person, anyway. I try not to hurt anybody. I look over my shoulder. I'm not stealing anything or messing around with anyone's wife. I can walk in, sit down and everything's cool, man. That's who I am. No big deal.

OMC: What do you like about Milwaukee?

UP: Milwaukee has grown on me. When I first came here, I thought it was very conservative. The busses stopped running at midnight in the early '70s. But it was always clean and orderly. There were no ghettos here. I found it to be a very comfortable environment. At Marquette, I met a lot of good people, including my wife. I've spent most of my adult life here, so this is my home. It's a nice a place to be, man.

OMC: What do you like to do when you leave Miller Park? Where's your favorite restaurant?

UP: George Webb's. My wife and mother-in-law always have Webb's coupons in their purses. I think it's a Milwaukee thing. But I only eat certain things at George Webb's.

OMC: Well, when the Brewers win 12 games in a row, we can all enjoy a free Webb's hamburger.

UP: We're working on that again, you know! Milwaukee has some great restaurants. I've always liked Grenadier's, even with the new ownership. I like Caterina's on Oklahoma. Simple, small.

OMC: What's next for Ulice Payne, the guy who's conquered Milwaukee?

UP: Oh, I don't know! I want to win the World Series. My mission is to win here. And the odds are with us. There are certain degrees of probability in everything. Baseball is very good about that. It's called "convergence to the means." We have not been to the playoffs since '82. So just by the fact that it's been so long, we are closer now to it happening! I believe it. It will come. I think we're perfectly situated with the new ball park, the new labor agreement and a chance for the ball club in the minds of the public. The market has to know that things are different. Look at the Packers. When I got here, the team was in bad shape. It was ugly. But then they brought in Bob Harlan, who brought in a new GM, who brought in a new coach. Boom! It all changed. It was like, "We are not accepting what you do not like." And I thought that was very important. Your experience will be different.

OMC: It's important to hear you say that. Because fans like me will keep going to and listening to games on the radio. But most people aren't that patient.

UP: That's right, and you can't count on that. And thank you for being that way. But after a while, you won't stay that way. When you hit that point, it's too late. But I'm just learning. Wait till next year. When I got here, certain things were already rolling and I couldn't change them. And I didn't have my people. But now I have a senior leadership team, and I get feedback. This year, we had to accept most of the players who were under contract. This is the bottom of the "V." Now we go from here.

OMC: Allow me to ask one selfish question. A while back we ran a poll on OnMilwaukee.com asking if fans would like to see a return to the old "ball and glove" Brewers logo?

UP: What were the results?

OMC: About 95 percent said yes. Everyone loves that logo. Even rappers are wearing Brewers hats!

UP: Yeah, 50 Cent. Allen Iverson. We checked with mlb.com, and the highest selling hat across the country is the Brewers throwback. Funny, we just changed logos two years ago, right? We have talked about this issue. Again, if the fans want it, you've got to give the fans what they want. But we invested a lot of money (in the current logo) and its merchandise. But rather than change (the logo) right now, they have batting practice jerseys and stuff. We might look to incorporate the old logo into the gear.

OMC: But down the road, you wouldn't rule it out?

UP: I wouldn't rule it out, but I just want to make sure my inventory is handled. You'd be surprised all the places that "M" is woven into. But we will change it, and when we do, I think we will look to go back to that.

OMC: There certainly is an emotional connection with that logo to when the Brewers were good.

UP: Winning builds an emotional connection. That's what sports do. Winning will cure a lot. But the question is, how can we win? First we have to be honest with ourselves and see where the talent is. Don't kid yourself. We didn't highlight any player this year in our ad campaign, because you know what? We lost 200 games in two years. Let's not kid ourselves. No one is untradable. The baseball plan must drive the business plan. And the baseball plan starts with baseball players.

Andy is the founder and co-owner of OnMilwaukee.com. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.