MILWAUKEE -- The uncertainty surrounding National League MVP Ryan Braun has not hurt the Brewers at the box office, the team's chief operating officer said Sunday. As fans began filling the Frontier Airlines Center for this year's version of Brewers On Deck, COO Rick Schlesinger said the team expects to parlay its 2011 NL Central title into a record-setting sales season in 2012, whether or not Braun is on the field for Opening Day. "Our ticket sales have been tremendous," Schlesinger said. "We are well ahead of last year, and we are expecting to have an all-time attendance record. Our numbers have been great."
The Brewers set the record just last season, drawing 3,071,373 fans while setting other club marks with 96 regular-season wins and 57 wins at home. It marked the third time in franchise history and the third time in four seasons that the Brewers topped the three million mark. They set another club record this winter by selling their one millionth ticket for the following season on Dec. 22, nearly a month ahead of the previous mark. That news came 10 days after ESPN reported that Braun faced a suspension following a positive drug test. "There has been no decline or plateauing [in sales], even after the announcement that Braun was under investigation," Schlesinger said. "I think fans are excited about the season." Braun was notably absent from Sunday's "On Deck" event, which featured autograph and photo sessions among other events. He withdrew last week with the blessing of Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio, who cited the sensitivity of Braun's confidential appeal. The appeals process reportedly began Jan. 19, and Brewers officials have no indications about the timing of a resolution. By rule, the arbiters who heard Braun's case have 25 days to render a decision. "I've been paying a lot of attention to talk radio and the blogs, and I know a lot of different people have a lot of different opinions [about Braun skipping the fan event]," Schlesinger said. "But I think the average fan understands that if it were up to him, Ryan would love to be here. He really is a fan guy. He likes interacting with the fans. "But I think you have to understand the situation he's in. He has to listen to his advisers saying what's best for him. Right now, the best thing is to deal with this situation. So the average fan, sure, they're disappointed he's not here, but I think they also for the most part respect why he's not." Most of the Brewers' other stars were in attendance, including pitchers Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke, closer John Axford and All-Stars Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks. After going through various iterations of winter caravans and fanfests over the years, the team has hosted Brewers On Deck at Milwaukee's downtown convention center since 2009. "It's a good marker to the start of the season. Before we know it, we're going to be in Spring Training," Schlesinger said. "Our fans love it, and as a staff, I wouldn't say it's gotten to the point where it's 'turnkey,' but having done it here for a number of years, I think our staff has minimized the surprises. We have a good time putting it on."