Bradley Center, BMO Harris Bradley Center, Milwaukee Bucks

Which comes first? Ticket Sales or the Product? celebrates two-months in existence today, and with that milestone we want to address the topic of ticket sales and home-game attendance.

A few folks have asked why is not aggressively advocating that people buy tickets to Bucks games. Some who pose that question, do so from the standpoint of believing ticket sales to be the best way to keep the team in Milwaukee. Another small subset of fans, who are not comfortable with the “tough love” approach of this website ask:

“The Bucks are playing the young guys like you asked for.  Why aren’t you (and others) packing the Bradley Center now?

Let’s hit these issues head-on in a comprehensive discussion of ticket sales and our Milwaukee Bucks.

SaveOurBucks supports attendance at Milwaukee Bucks games

Many of the people who identify with the movement are regular ticket buyers. A number of us are long-time season ticket holders or fans who frequently attend Bucks games now and in years past. At the SOB gathering we had before the Holidays, Milwaukee native and pro-wrestler Austin Aries noted that the Bucks organization needs all the fans it can get, and that supporters are one of the last core constituencies of rabid fans the organization has left.

So let it be known that this movement does support ticket sales and home game attendance. While we are not able to control the actions or words of every person who supports us, we encourage all of you, to get your friends and family down to the BMO Harris Bradley Center to watch the Bucks.

Further, we encourage you to let people know that Bucks ticket prices are a huge bargain, as it relates to your entertainment dollar.  During discussions of the Bucks or a new arena on local radio, we frequently hear certain callers emphatically state:

I can’t afford the $300 it would cost me to take my family to a Bucks game!

People used to say the same thing as to why they didn’t attend Brewer games at County Stadium in the 1990’s. The line “it costs too much” is a complete falsehood. Watch any Bucks television broadcast or check the team website, and you will see numerous ticket deals that allow a family of four to attend a Bucks game, for the same or lower price than an evening movie with popcorn at your local cinema. Ticket prices are not the reason that fan attendance is suffering.

Bucks Games need to be a “Destination Event” before ticket sales improve

This website can run admonitions for people to buy tickets until the proverbial cows come home, and it will not make a dent as it relates to ticket sales. Why? Because Bucks games are not destination events anymore, and they haven’t been for the last number of years. Core fans only provide a base for ticket sales. The casual fans are the ones who make the difference for most sports teams, and the casual fan in Milwaukee needs to see a major change in the team, before they will return.  Just “playing the young guys” for a month, is not going to immediately turn around an aircraft carrier that has been headed in the wrong direction for the past decade. These things take time.

There are certain sports franchises that are able to sell tickets, attract national attention, and be “it” places to attend games, regardless of how the team is performing. These organizations would include the New York Yankees, Green Bay Packers, Detroit Red Wings and Los Angeles Lakers, among others. All of these franchises are what are known as legacy teams. They’ve won numerous world titles, had decades of success, and by and large have created a name brand that is allowed to thrive through down seasons.

For the rest of professional sports it is a “what have you done for me lately?” world that we live in. Most teams need to first generate success and excitement to have strong attendance. The success then later creates a buzz, which makes attendance at games a “destination event” whereby everyone in town wants to go to a game, simply because it is “the thing” to do. There is nothing wrong with this, it is human nature. We can all remember the neighbor who wouldn’t recognize the names John Jaha, Marquis Grissom or even Richie Sexson, but now he’s wearing a Ryan Braun jersey to ten Brewers games a year.

Bucks games in the 1970’s and 1980’s used to be this way.  For our older readers, they can remember when the “who’s who” of Milwaukee would regularly be at the Mecca, soaking up Bucks games, sometimes more to be seen than to actually watch the game. Children in schools around the metro area would brag to their classmates that they would be attending the Bucks game that night, as tickets were hard to come by.  Weekday start times of 8:00pm didn’t matter, as young and old all wanted to go watch the Bucks, regardless of how late into the night the game went.

In a sense, the Bucks were one of those legacy franchises that we describe above. Entering the 1990’s, people still strongly identified with the team due to prior success, and luxury boxes at the Bradley Center were in demand. Fans patiently waited during the 1992-1999 period for the Bucks to turn things around. The team was able to re-energize that fan base with the success of the 2000-01 team, but to our point, increases in attendance lagged a year (16,662 per game in 2000-01 v. 18,178 per game in 2001-02.)

If we wanted to chart the exact peak of that era, it probably would be the game played on February 2, 2002 between the Bucks and Philadelphia; the Sixers first game back in Milwaukee since game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals the year prior. While the Bucks lost, the game was a sellout and nationally televised on NBC. Marv Albert, Bill Walton and Steve Jones from the NBC crew added to the hype. The Bucks were 27-18 at the time, but about to take a tumble in the standings. After that game, the team went on to lose 23 of their next 37 games, and miss the playoffs.  Soon Glenn Robinson, Ray Allen and Sam Cassell were traded, and George Karl fired. The team then began a downward spiral, as the casual fan disengaged from the team over the past decade.

We cite that history lesson, to note that as with the Brewers, Bucks attendance will not begin to improve until the team provides an exciting product on the court.  We aren’t describing a product like last year, where they finished with a 38-44 record in a mediocre Eastern Conference. We are talking about a true 50-game winner, built on a foundation of young players, who have potential to significantly improve over time. The casual Milwaukee fan is sophisticated enough to know that the acquisitions of journeyman veteran players such as Stephen Jackson, Corey Maggette and ZaZa Pachulia aren’t going to change the fortunes of the team, and make Bucks tickets a desirable commodity.

Further, it may take a year or two of success, excitement and high draft picks, before the fans are able to emotionally buy into the concept that things have changed.  We are very encouraged about the prospect that the Bucks will embark on a true rebuilding effort, however, the increased ticket sales that we all desire will follow success, not precede it.

The Marquette Story – Show us you’ve changed first

We’ve discussed how the Packers and Brewers hit rock bottom before things improved. We’ll use a different example this time, the Marquette Golden Eagles men’s basketball team. As with the other state teams mentioned, Marquette had a golden era during the time of Al McGuire. High profile players and great teams, drove decades of significant success. Tickets were hard to come by, and the Mecca was frequently sold out for Warriors games in the 1970’s and into the 1980’s. However, in the decade after McGuire left, hard times fell on the MU program, and game attendance suffered along with it. MU games were no longer destination events, even for the MU alumni.

The University cleaned house after the 1999 season, and Tom Crean was brought in for a completely fresh start. Crean’s goal was to bring in his own ideas to return the team to former glory. Despite the enthusiasm the Crean hire generated, fans did not respond with ticket purchases. Here is a look at the attendance pattern for MU games during that period:

Year Record Avg. Per Game Coach
1998-1999 14-15 12,145 Deane
1999-2000 15-14 9,971 Crean
2000-2001 15-14 11,360 Crean
2001-2002 26-7 12,777 Crean
2002-2003 27-6 15,553 Crean

MU attendance in Crean’s first season was down from the year prior, even though the team finished with a winning record. In year two, attendance only bounced back slightly, to 11,360 per game. In Crean’s third year the team finished with an undefeated home record of 15-0 and a season record of 26-7. A massive improvement on the court, and again, attendance only improved slightly, up to 12,777 per game, even though the team won, and won big.

It took Crean three full years at the helm before the casual MU fan knew it was “safe” to return, and return they did. The 2002-03 team averaged 15,553 per game, while ultimately earning a berth in the Final Four. It helped to have a marquee star in Dwayne Wade, whose later NBA fame would continue to rub off on the program. The newfound community buzz around the program, meant not only increased ticket sales, but other benefits as well.  MU rode this wave to successfully fundraise for, and build the Al McGuire Center, at a cost of $31 million.

We highlight the MU attendance data to support the fact that the casual fan in Milwaukee (and elsewhere) needs to be shown a certain level of success, before they emotionally commit to purchasing tickets and attending games in much greater numbers. Attendance is always a lagging indicator for any sports team. The fans didn’t show up during Crean’s first few seasons of cleaning house and rebuilding the program, but by 2004, MU Alum “Betty in Brookfield,” who heretofore didn’t care about the program, was now buying a season ticket package and reading John Dodds MU message board, to learn about new recruits.

How Can the Bucks turn Ticket Sales around?

For the Bucks attendance to make a meaningful increase, it will not necessarily come from people who identify with the movement. Many of us are already attending games, just as the die hard Brewer fans were going to County Stadium and later Miller Park, with their scorecards in hand, hoping for better days. The attendance boost comes when the casual fan in Milwaukee is shown that things have turned, and it is acceptable to once again identify strongly with the team.

This increase in attendance will start if the Bucks are able to obtain one of the exciting top-five prospects in the upcoming 2014 NBA draft. If the Bucks win the lottery and obtain the #1 overall pick, that will be an even better outcome. However, that scenario alone will not be enough. The organization will need to reform itself with basketball people, who are able to make the smart decisions that will ultimately drive sustained success. Until the casual fan views the Bucks as an emotionally safe and exciting alternative to invest their hard earned dollars, attendance will lag, even if this website devoted itself 24/7 to promoting ticket sales.

Given the inability of the local media to be a watchdog for the team’s basketball operations the past twenty-years, we are going to continue to fill that void as one of our missions. If Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writer Bob McGinn, can write detailed critiques regarding a Packers team that has won its division and a Super Bowl in the past three years, the Bucks can certainly benefit from some outside analysis and community discussion as to why things have not worked on the basketball court, and in the front office, over the past two decades. As we have noted many times, we love the Bucks and want them to be a long-term fixture in Milwaukee for decades to come, hence our tough love approach.

As the narrative changes regarding the Bucks, so will our ability to spread the gospel of “Green and Growing” and help encourage greater fan attendance at games.

3 thoughts on “Which comes first? Ticket Sales or the Product?

  1.'Concerned s t h

    Start today with massive trades. Coach D needs to get some energy and needs to get some T’s – the path right now is 5th worst record in nba history. Ever. I hope the players and office Realize please that fans still care. But massive change needs to happen today. The squad really can’t get any worse. It’s just Brutal to watch. I hope I’m singing a different tune soon, but now the house is burning down and the firemen are on break. People are watching from down the block and wondering how long will this fire go on for? Where are the firemen? Help, help the fans.


      As I said they frustrate me all the time. I’m not going to stop going or watching, cause they are my team. I see a bright future. As for the record, who cares at this point. mike


    The Bucks started off the season with 7-8 players hurt. We have a very young team that will need time too mature and grow as players and as a team. Once they do and start winning again attendance will grow and grow and In time the city will LOVE this hard working team. We are losing and they do frustrate me. I have still have more fun going this year and watching on Tv , then the past 3 years, because I know basketball and I see improving every game. This Is gonna be really fun again for BUCKS fans In a couple of years. I for one cant wait.


Come on, you know you've got something to say about this...