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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

Replacing the Bradley Center is sure to be a debate in the coming decade.

New arena not the solution to Bucks' problems


Over the next ten years, one of the city's biggest sports debates will more than likely revolve around the Milwaukee Bucks, the Bradley Center and the future of the two.

Right now, there is a quiet but growing minority laying the groundwork for what will ultimately be an all-out charge to build a new arena for the city's NBA franchise, under the guise of the facility being for the city itself.

The Bradley Center, its limited revenue-generating streams understood, isn't the problem, though.

The building is just fine.

The problem isn't the building. It isn't even the franchise which, admittedly, has made some questionable and costly moves as it stumbled from relevance over the last decade.

No, the problem lies in the current state of professional basketball, itself; the NBA and its insane economic model - even more so than baseball - is what causes trouble.

Currently, the NBA's salary cap is $57.7 million. With the various exemptions offered under the league's "soft cap," any payroll over $69.92 million is subject to a dollar-for-dollar luxury tax.

Take, for example, your Milwaukee Bucks. The team's 2009-2010 payroll, according to HoopsHype.com is $67,469,300 this season. Now, forget for a minute the asinine salaries being paid to Michael Redd and Dan Gadzuric.

The Bucks, with a 15-player roster, are shelling out just under $70 million dollars to players for 82 games of work (plus preseason, playoff and practice sessions).

The Brewers, on the other hand, will pay the players on their 25-man roster roughly $80 million dollars for a 162-game season as well as roughly six weeks of spring training and possible playoffs. Again, let's take out the argument of baseball players having more games and thus, working harder.

Those 162 games provide a much, much bigger revenue stream than basketball's 82 games. Why do you think NBA ticket prices are so outrageous? Why do you think - aside from the Bucks' abysmal performance over the years - the Bradley Center is more often than not a barren wasteland during many games?

Owners have to pass the expense on to the fans. You're footing the bill for the folks making their millions. Now, I'll admit... this sounds like naïve, pie-in-the-sky dreaming, but I'm not foolish enough to think that owners and players are actually going to stop and think about the people footing the bill.

It does, though, form a valid argument against another publicly-funded sports venue.

Building a new arena isn't going to fix anything. Again, look at the Brewers, who moved into Miller Park in 2001 after a brutal debate. The team didn't start winning until much later in the decade when smart people were put in charge of baseball decisions.

And now that they're winning, those people are still hamstrung by the limitations of the Milwaukee market. Six million fans have passed through Miller Park over the past two seasons, yet baseball's economic model, too, is so terribly out of whack that there was no possible way the Brewers could retain CC Sabathia and could very possibly be forced to part with superstar Prince Fielder down the road.

Does this mean that Miller Park was a waste of money? Not by a long shot. The difference in replacing County Stadium and the Bradley Center is as clear as night and day. County Stadium was over 50 years old, it was designed at a time when the main objective was to get 'em in, show 'em a game and get 'em out.

Baseball, for all of its problems, is still the first thing that comes to mind when folks think of "major league" cities. County Stadium had to go. It was old, it was falling apart ... and it was time. The Bradley Center, meanwhile, opened in 1988 and came as a gift to the city - free of charge, thanks to Jane and Lloyd Pettit, who built the building with their own money in the hopes of landing an NHL franchise.

(A side note... people don't realize how close Milwaukee was to becoming an NHL city in the late 1980s. The franchise now playing in Tampa was all but assured to end up in Milwaukee. The Pettit's, though, balked at what they considered an insane expansion fee and didn't feel it right to punish fans by charging disgusting ticket prices to watch bad expansion hockey.)

Back to the point, though. The Bradley Center looks and feels brand new. Yes, it needs upgrades. But the price tag is miniscule compared to building a new arena. Funny, nobody was complaining about the bad sight lines, lackluster amenities and whatever else is currently an issue when the building was packed and deafening during the Bucks' 2001 playoff run.

Building a new arena in Downtown Milwaukee would do very little to improve the Bucks' chances. Sure, adding new revenue-generating amenities would provide a boost to the coffers, but let's take a look back in history.

One of the selling points when the Pettit's built the Bradley Center was the addition of luxury suites - another addition at Miller Park, too. But what's happened since then? The market couldn't support those high-priced boxes and both the Bucks and Brewers have, over the last few years, gutted several of the boxes and converted them to "party suites" and club areas.

The economy has taken a beating over the past few years and, especially now when companies are laying people off left and right, splurging on a suite for a season just isn't a justifiable expense for most companies, just as taking the average family of four to a game is hard to swallow for most average families of four.

The only way for the Bucks - and other small to medium-market franchises - to stay afloat is to finally stop the insanity and find a way to get salaries and costs under control. Fleecing the taxpayers for a new building, especially to replace one that is only 20-some years old, is nothing more than putting lipstick on a pig.

The Beverly Hillbillies struck it rich and moved from the backwoods to the penthouse, but we all know what happened there. The same will hold true for a new arena.


Talkbacks

twojo1 | Jan. 3, 2010 at 4:16 p.m. (report)

That all sounds fine. The bottom line tho , is unless a local person or group buys the Bucks... They'll move out of Milwaukee without a revenue generating arena. The only reason the Brewers are still here is Miler Park. You think anastasio would keep them here without a stadium capable of making money? Not a chance. So if people thnk the BC isn't outdated , that's fine. But if that's the case it'll be empty within 10 years....

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DT | Jan. 3, 2010 at 2:18 p.m. (report)

Not really a "new arena or not" issue for the Bucks. Yes, the NBA and all sports leagues need to get their financial homes in order .. but as sports and the live experience evolve the arenas need to cater to the new fan. The BC lacks the amenities (restaurants, lounges, street presence, open to the street team stores, etc.) that make stadiums attractions. It needs these to survive. New hotels, The Brewery and continued Downtown develop help ... but the BC needs to change with the times as do the Bucks. The Bucks are on their way back, and are again -- like the Brewers about 5 years ago, relevant. Give them time, some remodeling at the BC and watch basketball rise again in Milwaukee.

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PlayerGotGame | Jan. 3, 2010 at 1:25 p.m. (report)

I could not agree more with the assessment that it is not the BC that's the problem, it is the franchise and the idiotic, unsustainable economic model that is the NBA. Marquette games are far more fun to watch because Buzz gets the boys to play hard throughout the game. Skiles is lucky if anyone other than Jennings doesn't mail it in until midway through the fourth quarter. If Senator Kohl wants to pay for a new arena for his team, that's fine with me, but I'm 100% against using any public money or enacting another "tax" to fund a venue for the sake of keeping bad basketball in Milwaukee.

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