Though Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has already signed a bill that calls for $250 million of taxpayer money to go towards a new arena for the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, the reality of the matter is that the team itself should be paying for that kind of luxury.
As was reported by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the bill calls for taxpayers to cover exactly half the cost of a $500 million arena over the next twenty years and in exchange, the Bucks will not move to Las Vegas, Seattle or any other city in the market for a professional basketball franchise. Noble as the cause may be, particularly since the Bucks have been in Milwaukee since 1968, this deal stinks to high heaven.
First off, more important necessities are being sacrificed for this arena. According to Jordan Weissmann of Slate, citing Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post, Walker cut $250 million from the state’s education budget in order to put up the City of Milwaukee’s half of the funds for the proposed new arena, with the other half coming from current and past team owners. The $250 million that taxpayers contribute will also go up to $400 million with interest and given how Wisconsin already has a $2.2 billion budget deficit, cutting funding for education and asking the public to finance a new arena is along the same lines of quitting one’s job, then asking friends and family to help pay for a new big-screen TV. It’s a nice thing to have, but a luxury that one can ill afford given certain circumstances.
Next, the Bucks’ current arena, the BMO Harris Bradley Center, is a perfectly good venue. It seats 18,717 for basketball games, just 280 seats less than a Los Angeles Lakers capacity crowd at the Staples Center, and doesn’t have any glaring issues other than the fact that it turns 27 years old in October and is the third-oldest active NBA arena, trailing only Oakland’s Oracle Arena and Detroit’s Palace of Auburn Hills, plus the fact that it doesn’t have the flashy perks of “modern” arenas. Granted, the Golden State Warriors are expected to move out of Oracle and into a new arena in San Francisco by 2018, but the team also just won an NBA championship and is privately funding the entire project. In Detroit’s case, while the Pistons have discussed moving downtown and sharing an arena with the Detroit Red wings starting in 2017, nothing is definite yet.
Adding onto that, it should be noted that though the Bucks have an excellent young core in Michael Carter-Williams, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and recent free-agent signee Greg Monroe, not to mention first-round draft pick Rashad Vaughn, the plan for the new arena seems to be banking on the hope that each of these players will remain with the team for the long-term, and that’s a big gamble. Monroe only signed a three-year contract, which is really a two-year deal since the third season is a player option, and Antetokounmpo, Parker and Carter-Williams are all still playing on their rookie contracts. The only lock to be on the team for the long-term is Middleton, who inked a five-year, $70 million deal this summer as a restricted free agent. Sure, Bucks ownership would love for ground to be broken this fall and for the arena to be completed by 2017 and though that certainly is a doable timeline, it is still a tight one and all sorts of delays in construction could happen. For all we know, by the time the arena is finally done, these players could all have left for different teams and the venue would suddenly be without its main selling point. That would bring a situation reminiscent to that of Marlins Park, and that would bring nothing but negative publicity.
Which brings up the next point, and probably the most important one. Despite having been in Milwaukee for almost fifty years, the Bucks do not have nearly the same statewide following nor the same level of brand recognition as the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. Given how that team plays in a city with nearly 500,000 less people than Milwaukee and somehow has a larger fan base, not to mention plays in a 57-year-old stadium and has won a championship in the past decade, giving the Bucks a new arena makes little sense since the last time the team got past the first round of the NBA playoffs was in 2001, when then-coach George Karl took them to the Eastern Conference Finals.
That all being said, with a large state budget deficit and little reason to justify spending the money on a new arena beyond ownership saying “Give us a new one or we’re taking our ball and going to either Seattle or Las Vegas,” the Milwaukee Bucks new arena project is a bad investment waiting to happen. The Brooklyn Nets are learning that lesson the hard way after moving from New Jersey to the Barclays Center in hopes of establishing themselves as the new team to beat in New York, but are now in a rebuilding phase just three years after moving into their $1 billion home, having finished in the lower tier of attendance numbers each season there. It’s gotten so bad that team owner Mikhail Prokhorov has tried to sell the team, only to put that on the back burner after potential buyers have balked at his asking price.
Even if their new arena is completed quickly, the cost at which it is being built just makes it look like the Milwaukee Bucks are headed down a similar road, at whose end is a potential situation where nobody wins.