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We had a chance to listen to the 11:00am hour of the Charlie Sykes Show this morning on WTMJ 620 AM, the flagship station of the Bucks. Between Charlie, Jeff Wagner and various callers, there were a number of reasonable questions raised regarding the sale of the Milwaukee Bucks and their future in Milwaukee. Some of the discussion revolved around points raised in our article from yesterday that we encourage you to read in conjunction with the Q & A below.
We didn’t take detailed notes on each question or point discussed on Sykes show, but there were clearly some common themes that we wanted to provide our thoughts on, thus we’ve paraphrased questions raised during the show and offered our thoughts to those questions below. So let’s get started!
Q: We are concerned that the NBA can pull the team from Milwaukee in 2017 if no arena is built. Why have not Senator Kohl, the New Owners or the League come out and said anything about this?
First off, the parties mentioned above are not able to talk about anything right now, since the deal is not completed. The parties entered into a purchase agreement, but the ultimate sale is still being finalized and must also be approved by the other NBA owners. If we had to guess, Senator Kohl might have waited on announcing the sale until all details were finalized but that timetable was perhaps accelerated when ESPN’s Bill Simmons reported the sale, the buyers and exact sale price, scooping pretty much everyone in the local media. Our guess is that we’re going to need to await finalization of the sale before any of the parties can comment on exact terms and conditions.
As to the specifics of what has been disclosed to date regarding a buy-back option held by the NBA should no new arena be built, Bucks fans were aware of that requirement for a long-time. For years the core fans here have known the NBA was going to require a new arena to enhance team revenues. Kohl, former NBA Commissioner David Stern and new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver have all mentioned this in the past, even during events here in Milwaukee. It has been a huge black cloud overhanging the Bucks’ fan experience the past decade.
We also think the impending requirement of a new arena has contributed to the team’s poor performance. Kohl and the front office wanted to see if they could bypass a full rebuilding of the team with young draft picks, and instead use veterans in order to generate fan interest and support for a new arena, thinking they didn’t have time to properly rebuild.
We do understand that people watching the sale press conference on April 16th may have gotten the impression the team was guaranteed to stay here permanently, without regard to a new arena. That said, the press conference itself was dominated by arena talk, so for us the connection between the team’s long term future and a new arena didn’t seem unrelated. We acknowledge the buyback provision caught a number of casual fans off-guard, along with certain media members covering the story who do not regularly cover the Bucks. That said, the number one concern most Bucks fans had after that press conference was: Can these guys flip the team to Seattle and how will Herb Kohl prevent that? We now have a solution to that issue.
Q: The new arena would be designed to make the team more money via better seats, boxes, restaurants and other amenities. The Bucks aren’t new, they’ve been here a long-time. How can we be sure this market can support a new arena and provide the Bucks with more revenue?
We’d encourage new visitors to our website to read the Executive Summary from our launch last November, regarding the state of the team the past two decades. The Bucks are an underdeveloped local asset. We’ve had to try and walk a fine line over the past six-months since the launch of this website to get two messages across: First, we are grateful to Senator Kohl for his stewardship of the team and his commitment to Milwaukee and the State of Wisconsin. Secondly, Kohl has not done a good job running the basketball operations, and as a result the Bucks have gone from the talk of the town in the 1970’s and 1980’s (Charlie–remember all those sellouts and Don Nelson led playoff teams when Bucks tickets were impossible to get?) to the league’s worst record this season at 15-67.
Kohl’s results in running the team have been similar to what Packer fans experienced during their 20-year drought between Vince Lombardi and Ron Wolf, and the long drought Brewer fans experienced while Bud Selig and his daughter Wendy Selig-Prieb ran the Brewers. As we’ve documented here, both organizations hit rock bottom in terms of local and national prestige, and both were able to turn it around quickly under new ownership and management.
Can we guarantee the Bucks will be able to turn things around under new management? No. But we also aren’t sure things can get any worse. Remember the NBA is a sport that is reliant on individual players, superstars if you will. You obtain those players with high draft picks as we documented earlier. Because the organization never wanted to allow itself to completely bottom out and receive high draft picks, Milwaukee never got a shot at any of these marquee players. In contrast earlier versions of the Bucks were allowed to bottom-out and properly rebuild in the mid-1990’s. Because of that rebuilding, they procured Glenn Robinson and Ray Allen, who made this town a great place to be during the 1999-2002 period.
Ask people who were Brewer fans in the 1990’s if they ever believed the Brewers could sell as many tickets as they have the past five years? Or pack people into the bars, restaurants and lounges at Miller Park? Or be spending money on gourmet foods, toy replicas of the racing sausages or T-shirts with a photo of a stray dog on it. Your answer back in 1995 when Miller Park was approved would have been a resounding No! Not possible! And we won’t accept revisionist history on this point either. We were there in the lower grandstand of County Stadium on Friday night games during those long summers in the 1990’s along with only 4,000 of our fellow fans. Give people a good product in a great building and they will respond. We’ve got historical examples of that happening here with the Brewers and Packers.
Q: This new arena seems like it will only provide more luxury boxes. The average person can’t afford to go to a Bucks game can they?
First off, a new arena doesn’t just provide more luxury boxes. As we discussed in our piece yesterday, these new facilities provide much better seats, sight-lines and fan experience for EVERY seat in the house. As Sykes’ counterpart Mark Belling said the other day on his program — “Unfortunately the Bradley Center was the last of the ‘bad’ arenas built. A few years after the BC went up, they figured out how to build these things much better”
Secondly, the ticket price issue is another myth. The Bucks have consistently run ticket specials that allow families of four to attend the game for $40 to $50 total, many times including sodas and hot dogs. There has always been an abundance of great ticket deals out there, even for seats close to the court. We also attend most Bucks games and see plenty of average folk in the stands proudly wearing our Milwaukee attire of jeans and T-shirt. It is not an elite crowd at Bucks games, nor has it become so at the new Miller Park or renovated Lambeau Field with their many boxes, club seats and amenities.
During the debate over Miller Park in 1995, we regularly heard sports talk personality Steve ‘The Homer’ True face protests from callers about high Brewer ticket prices. Homer would then simply call up the Brewers ticket office, and the rep would recite over the air the many deals that were available to fans starting at $4 tickets for certain nights and locations. The “high ticket price” problem is a straw-man. It is the quality of the product and the venue. And just like the Brewers, that is where the new ownership and new arena come in.
Q: We hear from certain quarters that a new arena will spur all sorts of economic development. Why then hasn’t there been significant high-end development around the Bradley Center?
We think this is a valid point that needs study and debate. While this website is not endorsing a specific location for a new arena, we do believe that City of Milwaukee redevelopment efforts the past two decades have not paid dividends because our leadership has not thought out a cohesive long-term strategy to place buildings where the people want to be. We’ve all seen very successful development along the lakefront, directly on the river and east of the river. We’ve also seen developments fail in other locations. We’ll let you and other radio talkers debate this one out with local officials. Our only additional commentary is that we are glad that Wes Edens and Marc Lasry will be part of the development process and site selection, to bring an outsider’s perspective to things.
Q: If the Bucks new arena is a success, won’t that take money away from other local businesses?
Have numerous Milwaukee bars, restaurants and stores gone out of business since Miller Park was built? Or at the area around Lambeau Field? Our impression has been that a successful team in a great venue creates an economic multiplier effect that arguably will help the entire economy, but we are willing to let the economists comment further. We do know this, Major Goolsby’s is going to be in trouble if the Bucks leave town — period. And so are a number of downtown bars and restaurants that rely on the traffic that comes into the area as a result of 41 Bucks home games per year.
Q: If we as a community are going to build a new arena, don’t we need the private sector to have ‘skin in the game’ to ensure this project is done right? Don’t we get into problems when we spend ‘other people’s money’?
We agree with this point. But we get a lot of that needed private sector accountability in the form of what looks to be at least a minimum of $250 million in private money being invested. The Bucks are bringing to the table $100 million of Herb Kohl’s money (and he did a good job with the Kohl Center in Madison –didn’t he?), $100 million of Edens/Lasry money and likely $50 million in naming rights from a private company that will not want to have their name on a white elephant project.
Wes Edens mentioned an estimated new arena cost of $400 million at the press conference the other day. Let’s up his number to $450 million for discussion purposes. If the private sector puts in $250 million, that is 56% percent of the cost of the building, or a majority percentage of the funds from private sources. We think those constituencies are going to work darn hard to protect their investment here.
Let’s also look at this from a different perspective, namely nights of use by each tenant. We don’t have access to the Bradley Center calendar, but are going under the assumption that 150 events are held there each year, ranging from the Bucks, Marquette Basketball, Admirals Hockey, concerts, MMA fights, Pro-Wrestling, Disney on Ice, various circuses and even Monster Truck rallies. If the Bucks use a new facility an average 45 nights year (2 pre-season games, 41-regular season games and hopefully at least 2 playoff games) they then would only be using the building 30% of the time, but paying for 56% of it. This doesn’t appear to be such a bad deal for the community. The Bucks pay for 56% of the cost while other community tenants get to use it 70% of the time.
This is a lot better deal for the taxpayer than Miller Park, where the Brewers brought only the $41 million dollars in naming rights to the table, for a single-use facility that they use 95% of the time. Again though, we caution that these arena cost and private capital numbers are preliminary. We all need to wait until the final numbers are in.
We do not plan on doing detailed commentaries in response to every local arena discussion that takes place in the media over the next six-months, but thought it important to get certain facts out on the table here in the early stages as it relates to common questions. We encourage a spirited dialogue and discussion.
We leave you with this brief video clip from the Bucks playoff game against Atlanta in April of 2010, to remind all of us how great an experience a Bucks game can be. And just think, this was merely the mascot performing (take that Hank the Dog!) Just imagine what things will be like when perhaps Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker take the court next year for our local team! We will get this town rocking again at Bucks games, just as we are doing now at Miller Park.