Save the Bucks, kill the Bradley Center: Keeping Milwaukee a two-sport town
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Adhering to a long-standing spring sports tradition, many Milwaukee residents are eagerly preparing for their first Brewers tailgate of the season. Others are drooling over potential Packers draft selections. Also occurring each spring is the almost unanimous fan abandonment of distant third-place Wisconsin pro-sports entity, the Milwaukee Bucks.
This year should bring no change in that trend, as the sub-.500 team—though still very much able to claim the right to be destroyed by the Bulls in the playoffs as the eight seed—shows little if any sign of building for the future. Yes, the acquisition of Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh in a deadline deal hints that the organization wants to improve in the short term. Yet the trade also sent fan favorite Andrew Bogut to Golden State without a draft pick coming in return, which is the equivalent of putting a bandage on severed limb.
An underachieving Bucks franchise, absent of legitimate star power or expectations of winning, is nothing new. I’ve grown to expect and even accept this to a degree. In the NBA, small-market, flyover-country teams are set at a major disadvantage. So, perennially eeking into the playoffs (if at all) and continuing to trot out a team of castoffs won’t cost Milwaukee its other professional sports team.
But the Bradley Center could.
First used in 1988, the privately donated arena is among the oldest in the NBA. (The few older structures have all undergone major renovations to keep them current.) The arena’s roughly 18,600 capacity makes it one of the smallest in the league, and—as fans in sections 203, 211, 217, 225, 404, 418, 426, and 440 who’ve had to crane their necks at an almost 90-degree angle to see the court can attest—it was built with at least the partial intent of one day luring an NHL team to town.
In 2009, the Bradley Center revealed a laundry list of sizable and costly repairs that it faced. According to the Journal Sentinel, that list included “outdated mechanical and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment; a deteriorating roof and exterior façade; an obsolete hockey rink system; outdated event production technology; and a significant number of seats that need to be replaced or refurbished.”
Anyone who has attended an event at the Bradley Center—or even walked past it lately—can see there are a few items left on that to-do list.
The JS article also mentions that before departing from his perch as Bradley Center board chair in 2009, Ulice Payne Jr. said he believed the arena would close in 2017, citing a growing number of major repairs and a lack of capital to tend to them. If Payne was correct, where does that leave the Bucks in 2017? Team owner/Milwaukee basketball proponent Herb Kohl will be 82 years old in 2017 (knock on wood) and unlikely to invest in a new arena that he’ll likely never live to see completed. As Milwaukee ignores the issue, an investment group led by San Francisco hedge-fund manager Christopher Hansen is willing to help partially fund a new arena in Seattle. That city lost its NBA team, the SuperSonics, to Oklahoma City in 2008 because of—you guessed it—an outdated arena.
Sacramento, too, is in the throes of a battle led by mayor/NBA alumnus Kevin Johnson to keep the Kings in town, following a close call regarding relocation to Anaheim last off-season. If Johnson is successful, Anaheim will undoubtedly lay in the weeds until another vulnerable franchise emerges. If he fails to keep the Kings where they are, Johnson—and the basketball-hungry residents in the one-sport town—will likely take steps to secure another team. I’m inclined to believe that a reeling small-market franchise in a deteriorating and outdated building would be that team.
So why should we, a largely disinterested populace of reluctant basketball hobbyists, care if the Bucks move? That’s for you to decide. Personally, I’m a Bucks fan. Even more, though, I’m a fan of Milwaukee’s standing as a two-sport city. Losing a professional sports franchise is never a good thing. In giving up the entertainment option and source of civic pride, the city in question surrenders immeasurable tourism dollars; a season’s worth of taxable income from free-spending million-dollar players; and the livelihoods of other team employees, arena workers, parking lot attendants, bartenders, and servers at nearby local establishments.
Herb Kohl has done his part, and then some, to both bring and keep NBA basketball in Milwaukee. Now, it’s in the hands of a theoretical local corporation willing to pay for naming rights to help break ground on a new arena. It’s also in our hands to show more interest in a commodity that’s present in just 28 other cities. Maybe residents of the five Milwaukee-area counties will vote to keep the 0.1-percent Miller Park sales tax going before it comes off the books within the next five years. Who knows, maybe a new venue would allow Milwaukee to upgrade from the Admirals to an NHL expansion or relocated team. No matter what we do, please don’t let it be nothing. If things continue as they have, the end will be near for the deer.