We were recently asked on Twitter by Bucks play-by-play man, Ted Davis (@Nbated), “What are the goals of SaveOurBucks.com?”
Long-term, we’d hope this site can be an information source and rallying point for fans, as the Milwaukee community debates the merits of a new arena. In the short-term however, our goals are to spark discussion and accountability regarding the franchise’s efforts in producing a compelling product for the fans to rally around. If the Bucks are able to present to the public an exciting team, we believe the fans will return. However, to get to that point Senator Kohl needs to rethink how he has structured his front office and the culture therein.
As we’ve documented here, the front office culture the past twenty years may be contributing to the challenges the team faces. The front office has a number of Executive Vice Presidents who have been with the team for decades. All of these people provide input on basketball related decisions, even though many are not basketball people, but rather attorneys and accountants. Here are some examples of their dysfunctional involvement in basketball decisions, as documented by BrewHoop.
Frank Madden’s piece was written back in 2008, though it would appear nothing has changed since the hiring of John Hammond. The Bucks simply have too many people in their front office who have some type of management input over basketball related decisions, and who have direct access to Senator Kohl. Senator Kohl should be listening to only one person in his organization for basketball decisions; his General Manager. The lack of a defined front office chain of command has negatively impacted the team’s ability to develop a long-term strategic plan to succeed on the court in the past, and is further evidenced by the teams 5-21 start to the current season. ESPN NBA commentator Bill Simmons noted in his column last week that the Bucks were “begrudgingly tanking just from sheer incompetence“.
Therefore, one of the short-term goals of the SaveOurBucks movement is to bring about public discussion as it relates to the last two decades of team performance, and the reasons why things have not worked on the court.
Accountability Drives Peak Performance
As WAUK radio personality Steve “The Homer” True stated last May, the local community and media are afraid to highlight the Bucks’ failings, out of fear of alienating Senator Kohl. As “Homer” noted, people in Milwaukee understand the Bucks are here because of the stewardship of Senator Kohl, and they do not want to offend him, lest he “throw in the towel” and sell the team to an out-of-state buyer.
Whenever shortcomings of the Bucks’ performance are raised with the team’s executives, public relations people and certain community leaders, they pivot the question to: “Aren’t you just happy that we still have NBA basketball in this town?“; The implication being that the Milwaukee fans need to be grateful for a team, and not question the results on the court. Unfortunately, this approach of invalidating any meaningful discussion as to the root causes of the team’s poor performance has likely perpetuated the problem.
It is human nature that we all need accountability in order to achieve peak performance. In the case of a professional sports team, the media typically provides this accountability by covering the actions and strategies of the front office. Due to concerns over the fragile situation with the Bucks’ future, the local Milwaukee media has selectively bypassed most of the hard questions regarding the structure and executive talent in the front office. As an example, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (“MJS”) can provide three different writers to hold the Packers accountable for who they draft to be their long-snapper, however the MJS has been absent the past decade with relevant reporting of the problematic and dysfunctional structure of the Bucks management.
There also have been issues of journalistic integrity as it relates to MJS and their relations with the team. The team is one of the largest print and digital advertisers with the paper, and for many years former MJS sports page editor, Gary Howard, would routinely attend most Bucks home games for his own personal enjoyment as a self-described “NBA junkie”, with court-side press seats provided to him by the team, even though Howard was not a journalist covering the club. From the Bucks’ perspective, their relationship with MJS has been a beneficial one. For fans looking for help from the media to hold the team accountable for their performance? Not so much.
We do not want to single out the MJS though, as most Milwaukee media outlets do not ask the tough questions needed to ensure the type of accountability provided by the media in most other markets. The local media will say that they don’t cover the Bucks closely because the fan interest isn’t there when compared to the Packers or Brewers. There is some truth to this, however the fan interest is low because of the poor performance of the team, creating somewhat of a vicious circle. The team isn’t held accountable and thus the franchise’s overall performance keeps sinking. As franchise performance declines, less fans are interested in the team, thus the spiral continues until we reach the point we are at today.
As we’ve noted, the situation with the Green Bay Packers in the 1980s never really improved until the media, led by then Milwaukee Journal reporter Dave Begel, started to question why the Packers were run by an executive committee of local attorneys and business leaders who did not have any real football knowledge. At first Begel was ostracized not only by the team, but by a large portion of the fan base as well, who thought that Begel was too hard on the franchise and its leadership. Over time though, the tough questions asked by Begel started to take root with the fanbase, other members of the media, and finally the Packers’ leadership. As everyone became more educated as to the structural reasons why the Packers were consistently losing, the team stepped up and made a dramatic change, empowering then-team President Bob Harlan with full authority. Harlan in turn provided a clear line of power to a highly competent outsider, in the form of Ron Wolf as General Manager, and things changed for the better in Green Bay overnight.
Note that with our critiques, it is not our goal to offend Senator Kohl, or any members of the Bucks organization. As we have highlighted, the Bucks exist in Milwaukee only due to the stewardship of the Senator. He has personally committed everything to this franchise financially in the past, and this team will only exist in Milwaukee in the future if he forgoes hundreds of millions of dollars of potential profit he could achieve by selling the team to a buyer in a larger market. Kohl is the Bucks #1 fan. Period. But there are issues that need to be addressed, which we’ve discussed earlier and want to reiterate here. We think the Bucks basketball fortunes can turn around quickly if Senator Kohl can find and empower his version of Ron Wolf.
Restructure the front office and think long-term
This past summer some in the Bucks front office stated that they are concerned that if the team “bottoms out” and rebuilds there will not be community support for any new facility, hence the team needs to acquire veteran players to be competitive now or next year at the latest. While we understand the argument, the problem is that for the past decade, the Bucks existing front office has not shown the ability to assemble the ‘competitive team‘ they keep referring to. That is why we think Senator Kohl and the local media need to look at that aspect of operations as a primary reason for the team’s lack of success. As part of that Senator Kohl needs to evaluate his role in creating a front office culture that has not performed to his or the fans’ expectations.
The logical solution would be to replace General Manager John Hammond, who has been in that position for six-years now, with David Morway, who recently joined the staff as Assistant General Manager. This type of move however isn’t going to be a magic bullet just as replacing Ernie Grunfeld with Larry Harris wasn’t a magic bullet, nor replacing Bob Weinhauer with Grunfeld worked, et cetera, et cetera. The Brewers and the Packers did not turn their fortunes around until they changed their front office culture. Senator Kohl needs to think bigger than just replacing a “General Manager” or “Coach” in order to create the environment for a turnaround to take place.
Where does SaveOurBucks.com go from here?
To bring things back to the original question posed by Ted Davis, we view the goals of this site as something that will evolve over time as facts and circumstances warrant. For the moment though, our short-term goal is to create a community discussion of things the organization can do to put a better product on the court. Topics the local media heretofore have not yet covered, but national NBA media are starting to write about.
Another interesting phenomenon with SaveOurBucks.com has been the large number of current and former season ticket holders who have reached out to us with support for the topics we are addressing. There is a large and proud fanbase here that is waiting to be re-energized. Adding to this energy is the strong possibility the organization could get a top pick in the upcoming 2014 NBA draft. Milwaukee fans aren’t dumb, they know we need a difference maker on the court and you don’t procure those players with picks 8-15 in the draft. Thus while this site isn’t about “tanking”, there is no question that this website is allowing fans to mobilize in an effort to hold the organization accountable to obtain a top five pick in the upcoming 2014 draft, as much as that position is a somewhat of a paradox.
Everyone needs accountability and analysis of their performance in order to reach their full potential and the Bucks are no exception. Thus we ask the team to consider the topics being discussed here in the spirit of having the same long-term goal: A successful and stable NBA franchise in the City of Milwaukee for decades to come.