Adam Silver isn’t even NBA commissioner yet — he officially takes over for his retiring boss David Stern on February 1 — but he’s already getting some on-the-job training in what commissioners are there for: Demanding new arenas so that team owners don’t have to. Yesterday Silver spoke to a private meeting of Milwaukee Bucks sponsors and the team invited in Milwaukee Business Journal writer Rich Kirchen, who dutifully transcribed Silver’s statements that the Bucks “need” a new arena because the Bradley Center lacks “amenities”:
Silver said he “just got a tour” of Milwaukee’s NBA arena and concluded it is too small and still falls short on amenities.
“At the end of the day compared to other modern arenas in the league, this arena is a few hundred thousand square feet too small,” Silver said. “It doesn’t have the sort of back-of-house space you need, doesn’t have the kinds of amenities we need.
“It doesn’t have the right sort of upper bowl/lower bowl (seating) configuration for the teams frankly that Milwaukee wants to compete against,” he said.
With Silver playing bad cop, all that was left for Bucks owner Herb Kohl to do was to say how much he wanted to stay in Milwaukee, but he had a tough time convincing the NBA to let him stay in that icky building:
“A little over a year ago we battled our way and convinced our way into an extension here in Milwaukee of our relationship with the Bradley Center,” Kohl said. “Getting an extension was not an easy thing.”
Kohl said he and Bucks officials had to appear before a committee of NBA owners who would either accept or reject the Bucks request for an extension to continue using the 25-year-old Bradley Center.
“There was some opposition there,” Kohl said. “None of it was personal — it was all a matter of good business in terms of what’s good for the NBA.”
Silver didn’t stick around to take questions, and Kircher didn’t raise any on his own, so let’s ask some now: How much is the lack of additional back-of-the-house space at the Bradley Center, and the ratio of upper- to lower-deck seats, actually costing the Bucks? Could the arena be renovated to fix this, perhaps by expanding its footprint? (It looks like there’s a parking lot at one end that could potentially be used for kitchen space and such, if that’s the issue.) If not, how much would a new arena cost, and would the new revenues be enough to make up for the construction costs? And finally, what if Milwaukee decides that it doesn’t see the need for a new arena — would Kohl really move the team, or would Silver really force him to?
These are the kind of questions we need to be asking — by which I mean journalists need to be asking, since they’re the ones who can get Kohl and Silver in a room with a microphone. There’s no doubt that Kohl and Silver would love a new building — as economist Rod Fort once noted, any team owner would love a new building every year so long as they’re not the one paying for it. But there’s a difference between want and need, and that’s where it’s important to show actual numbers, not just allow leage officials to speechify before a chosen audience and a chosen reporter in order to get their message into the headlines.