MILWAUKEE - Herb Kohl’s pending deal to sell the
Milwaukee Bucks to a pair of wealthy East Coast businessmen is
generating some long-absent excitement around the downtrodden
NBA franchise, but the prospective new owners must endear
themselves to the community if they are to gain support for a
new arena to serve as the team’s home, according to a local
“A major challenge for the new owners is how to
build excitement around the Bucks,” said Felicia Miller,
associate professor of marketing at Marquette University.
The Bucks finished with the worst record in the
NBA this season, winning only 15 games against 67 losses. It
also set a mark for futility for the franchise, which got its
start in 1968. The Bucks played before sparse crowds on most
nights at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, the team’s home court
since the 1988-89 season.
After a run to the Eastern Conference finals in
2001, the Bucks have generally struggled on the court ever since
under the ownership of Kohl, who purchased the franchise in 1985
for $18 million.
Despite the Bucks’ struggles, Kohl, who served as
a United States senator from 1989 to 2013, remains “intertwined
into the fabric of Wisconsin,” Miller said.
The 79-year-old Kohl has agreed to transfer
ownership of the NBA franchise to Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry,
who some local residents and Bucks’ fans are likely to view as
rich Wall Street financial wizards “solely concerned about
generating a return on their investment,” she said.
Lasry is the billionaire chairman of Avenue
Capital Group, a private equity firm based in New York City.
Edens’s Fortress Investment Group is a publicly traded hedge
fund, also based in New York City.
“They will have to be sensitive to the unique
dynamics of the Milwaukee area,” Miller said. “What you don’t
want is two venture capitalists just looking to make money.”
Putting a winning team on the court also likely
would go a long way toward gaining public support for the
franchise and a new arena, which almost certainly is needed if
the Bucks have any long-term chance of remaining in Milwaukee,
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has stated that a
new arena is a requirement for keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee
“The Milwaukee market is a tough one for the
NBA,” Miller said. She noted that the franchise is forced to
compete with the Milwaukee Brewers, the immensely popular Green
Bay Packers and successful local major college basketball
programs for attention and, more importantly, consumer dollars.
Having a bona fide star for the franchise also
would go a long way toward boosting the Bucks’ image. The Bucks
have a few young, marketable players, including Giannis
Antetokounmpo, John Henson and Brandon Knight, and are
guaranteed of having one of the top four picks in the upcoming
However, the franchise’s roster doesn’t have
anyone with the star power of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers
or even the Brewers’ Ryan Braun, whose play on the field this
season has fans already willing to overlook recent
transgressions, which included a lengthy suspension last season
for using performance-enhancing drugs.
Nonetheless, keeping a professional basketball
team in Milwaukee with the possibility of a new arena is likely
to generate excitement for the region, Miller admits.
“I think the outlook is optimistic,” she said.
Other small market teams, including the San
Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder, have enjoyed
considerable success and could be models for the Bucks, Miller
best deal, says MMAC president
The sale of the Bucks was inevitable, said Tim
Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of
“I think (Kohl) did everything in his control to
set Milwaukee up with the best opportunity to keep an NBA team
in Milwaukee for the foreseeable future,” Sheehy said.
He admitted that the sale price of $550 million
“surprised just about everybody,” especially given that Forbes
recently valued the Bucks at $405 million, dead least among the
30 NBA franchises.
“I’m convinced (Kohl) didn’t make the deal just
to maximize the sale price but to find a credible buyer
committed to creating a winner here in Milwaukee,” Sheehy said.
Sheehy briefly met with Lasry and Edens.
“I think they are committed but let’s not fool
ourselves. The commitment comes as a partnership,” he said.
Some form of a private-public arrangement will be
necessary in order to get a new arena built, Sheehy added.
Kohl has pledged a $100 million gift and the new
owners have committed to contribute at least that much for the
development of a new arena.
“My priority has always been and will continue to
be keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee,” Kohl said. “This
announcement reinforces that Milwaukee is and will continue to
be the home of the Bucks.”
A new arena is expected to cost at least $400
million. The Bucks have a lease with the Bradley Center through
“If we don’t build a new facility, we won’t have
an NBA team,” Sheehy said.
remains at forefront
The MMAC arena task force is exploring funding
options for a new facility. Among the considerations is a
tax-incremental financing district to fund a new sports arena.
Taxpayers in southeast Wisconsin also could be asked to pay a
regional sales tax to help fund a new arena.
“Any solution will include some level of public
financing,” Sheehy said.
The task force had studied whether a major
renovation of the Bradley Center would be sufficient but
determined it would be prohibitively expensive and not create a
“It will just not create a world-class facility
that will keep an NBA team here,” Sheehy said.
Keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee would allow the
region to retain a “unique asset” that creates an economic
benefit thorough job creation, tax revenue, brand equity and
improved quality of life for the community, he added.
The MMAC’s arena task force’s next step will be
to “huddle with the new owners and re-engage on a game plan,”
Edens and Lasry described themselves as “lifelong
basketball fans who are committed to the success of the Bucks
and the identity of the team as a part of the city of
The deal is subject to the approval of the
National Basketball Association Board of Governors.