Bucks Don't Need New Center

Performance matters more than mortar

By Jon Ede

Being a dedicated Milwaukee Bucks fan and season ticket holder, there’s a problem brewing now.  It’s been long stated to keep an NBA franchise in Milwaukee, a new stadium must be built.  This could not be further from the truth. 

The main ingredient in keeping the Bucks, or any team in a city, is income.  If the team is selling tickets and generating revenue, they will stay where they are.  Sure the Bradley Center is not a state of the art stadium, but should we really resort to spending millions of dollars in taxpayer’s money to build a new one?  No, that will only create larger financial problems for pretty much everyone involved.  However, renovating the current arena could be a much wiser investment.

This isn’t the first time the city of Milwaukee has had to make a decision like this.  In the late 90’s, Milwaukee County Stadium was falling apart.  Rumors of the Brewers leaving town surfaced.  Eventually, a new, taxpayer supported Miller Park was built.  The stadium, which cost a little over $400 million, received more than 75% of that from public funds.  Now, 10 years later, the stadium is thriving.  Attendance and revenue from the stadium has shot through the roof.  It has drawn many different musical concerts, including Farm Aid just last year.  But, the outcome didn’t always look so good.

After first being built, Miller Park became the new sight to see.  During the first season, sellouts happened pretty much every night.  It was praised as one of the best stadiums in baseball.  After seeing 2.8 million fans walk through the gates in 2001, the Brewers had to be pretty happy with the state of their franchise.  Problem for them was they went just 68-94 that season.  It’s tough to keep fans interested if you don’t win games.  In 2002 and 2003 the Brewers went a combined 124-200 and saw fan support plummet.  In 2002 and 2003, attendance dropped to 1.9 and 1.7 million.  The Brewers again struggled throughout the next couple of seasons, playing better, but still mediocre baseball.  Over the next three seasons, the Brewers averaged just 2.2 million fans in the park.  As playoff possibilities came in 2007 and 2008, so did the fans.  The Brewers neared three million fans in each of those seasons.  Subsequently, revenue from merchandising and in-stadium sales (food and parking) skyrocketed. 

The actual revenue that a stadium is able to generate is mainly driven by the performance of the team.  After the initial awe that goes along with a new stadium, financial performance reverts back to their norms if teams are struggling.  If the Bucks were to again struggle, they would run into financial problem no matter how nice the new amenities are. 

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Bradley Center is currently operating at a loss of about $2 million per year.  Having to spend an additional $200-$300 million more on a new stadium will only make matters worse.  That’s why renovating the current stadium is correct move.

The Bradley Center’s board of directors determined the current stadium would need $23 million in renovations.  In addition, the state said it wouldn’t have problems providing $5 million to that, leaving just $18 million to be funded.  That would save hundreds of millions of dollars, which could be used in future plans to update the stadium.  Especially consider you, the taxpayer, would have to come up with the majority of those remaining funds.  Some still complain about the increase that occurred when Miller Park was planned and built.

One of the biggest reasons NBA attendance has been struggling in recent years is the price of tickets.  On average, NBA tickets are 37% more expensive than baseball tickets and rank just behind the NFL in average ticket price.  NFL teams play eight home games, which allows them to get away with the high ticket prices.  The NBA doesn’t quite have that same luxury.  Each team has 41 home games, which doesn’t put as much of demand on the tickets.

The Bucks average ticket this season is $47.64.  They are averaging 15,677 fans a game, which ranks 21st out of 30 NBA teams.  With a new arena, those fans would certainly see an increase in ticket price to help offset some of the new building costs.  That’s something that could damage to an already small amount of dedicated Bucks ticket holders.

While some will argue with a notion of renovation and would rather rebuild, it just doesn’t make financial sense.  Sure a new arena would bring excitement to the area and likely increase attendance and the fan base for a season or two, but what about after that?  Anybody can sit in a nice place, but what is going on there is what draws them.

In the end, the biggest threat to a franchise existing in Milwaukee is the fan base, not the arena.  If the performance of the Bucks picks up and they start drawing back the fans they had years ago, they will be fine.  Throwing an expensive stadium in the picture could only make matters worse.  Renovation, not rebuilding is the key to bringing back the Bradley Center.  Sure it doesn’t look great now, but neither would a new stadium where fans don’t show up to.

 

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