Is Milwaukee a great sports town?
What makes a great sports town?
In reality, it is a combination of things. Good teams, rabid fans, history, success, foresight and even a little bit of luck.
Considering all of this, does Milwaukee make the cut? Anecdotally, the evidence might indicate we do not.
Yesterday, my colleague Dave Begel chronicled the woes that afflict the Milwaukee Wave, who despite their six league championships and Hall of Fame-caliber coach cannot draw flies to the Arena.
Aside from the recent hiring of Andy Geiger, UWM's athletics department has not shown any signs of escaping from the gross incompetence of nearly its entire history. Of course, the jury is out on Geiger, who comes here with the reputation of being a heavyweight, but enters a situation with almost no infrastructure whatsoever. While his appears to be an inspired hire, without real progress in the time Geiger is here will mean that he was just another big name in an empty suit.
The Milwaukee Mustangs provide tremendous affordable family entertainment and is one of the best ticket deals you will ever find. Yet, despite their best efforts, they have somehow failed to capture the imagination of casual fans who might want to satiate their football fix during the Packers offseason.
Of course, it is the Packers who rule the roost and will certainly never loosen their death grip on the top spot on the Wisconsin sports rung.
Meanwhile, every other state team has been subject to the whim of public sentiment at the moment.
In the late 1990s, the Mustangs outdrew the Brewers on several occasions when the two teams were playing simultaneously. Before the arrival of Pat Richter and Barry Alvarez, Camp Randall Stadium was a ghost town on college football Saturdays.
Two years ago, the Bucks "Fear the Deer" run made the Bradley Center the coolest place in town to be seen. But after some injuries and losses piled up since the spring of 2010, fan apathy has never been higher.
So is Milwaukee a good sports town? Before you answer that, consider a city strikingly similar to Milwaukee in terms of national perception and demographics. A city that has been lauded and envied for the bold leadership that lifted them out of the doldrums of being little more than a footnote on a flyover state map.
In the 1970s, Indianapolis made a conscious decision to make sports its identity. What was not long ago a bleak, economically depressed, sleepy downtown became completely transformed with bold leadership, vision and even some risk-taking. Then-Mayor Dick Lugar said "we decided that Downtown Indianapolis wanted a heart."
That heart, first conceived by Lugar and brilliantly executed by his mayoral successor, Bill Hudnut, was making sports a centerpiece of the city's landscape.
Before it even had a NFL team to call its own, construction of the Hoosier (later RCA) Dome was approved using mostly public funds with a very quiet and non-controversial 39-9 vote in the Indiana State Legislature. State of the art track and field facilities were constructed, as was a natatorium and even a velodrome. All without much controversy, recall elections, heated public debates or public referendum campaigns.
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The Panthers just captured their 6th overall McCafferty Trophy (The Horizon League's All-Sport Champion). They also claim the most conference athletic titles of any school in the conference's history --- topping Notre Dame. How this amounts to gross incompetence is both perplexing and amusing. As far as Milwaukee being a good sports town, that's debatable. Milwaukee is undoubtably a good town for front runners. When a team does well, fans are out in droves. For the Brewers, it only takes sniffing .500 to pack the stadium. Overall, for a market this small, MKE holds its own.
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