Wisconsin TV station reports “immense” Bucks arena windfall after talking only to guy who cut Bucks arena deal

And now for your periodic reminder in how to read a news article. First, the headline:

‘UPFRONT’ recap: Return on Fiserv Forum will be immense for state taxpayers

Seeing as this appears on the website of the Milwaukee TV station WISN, “UPFRONT” is likely some TV news program. Fiserv Forum is the name of the new Bucks arena. And “immense” means huge, so presumably WISN reporters took an independent look at the return on state spending on the arena and found a lot of money coming back. Or, you know, not:

Fiserv Forum, the new home of the Milwaukee Bucks, will return a “tremendous” amount of money to state taxpayers who helped fund it, said Scott Neitzel, the former administration secretary for Republican Gov. Scott Walker who helped craft the arena deal.

Yes, WISN left out the part where the immense return (actually the quote was “tremendous” but apparently they were trying to cut characters) is entirely according to the guy who negotiated the deal, and who now runs a consulting firm for local businesses, another tidbit that WISN left out. In fact, the entire report was based solely on a single interview with Neitzel, who asserts that the state of Wisconsin will take in $600 million in income taxes for its expenditure of $80 million in tax money. (Plus “the pride of now having a potential championship team here,” because apparently the Bucks owners would have traveled back in time to 2013 and not drafted Giannis Antetokounmpo if they hadn’t received the arena subsidy.)

This is actually something that has already been researched, and Neitzel’s claims, it turns out, are somewhere between overblown and completely fraudulent:

  • The state’s own earlier estimates were for $299 million in new income taxes over the next 20 years, not $600 million. Neitzel gave no explanation for the doubling of his projections.
  • $169 million of that $299 million would come from projected increases in NBA salaries over coming years, something that would only work out if average player salaries rise to $33 million a year.
  • Even that remaining $130 million in state tax receipts assumes that 1) the Bucks would have left without a new arena and 2) people who would have spent money on Bucks games would then take their money and spend it elsewhere. The latter of these has been shown by studies to be categorically untrue, though the presence of an NBA team can move some spending from the suburbs to the city — which benefits Wisconsin state tax coffers, needless to say, not at all, unless you’re luring tons of fans from across the Illinois border.

All of which leaves, well, who knows? But it’s certainly a lot less than a “tremendous” or “immense” windfall, as a call to any independent sports economist, or even a quick googling, would have confirmed. WISN, though, didn’t have time for that, so it was left to viewers to figure out for themselves whether Neitzel was telling the truth or some other thing. And really, isn’t that what journalism is all about?


2 comments on “Wisconsin TV station reports “immense” Bucks arena windfall after talking only to guy who cut Bucks arena deal

  1. “See guys, it’s right here in the calculations: ‘Immense.’ Previous studies only showed it as being ‘huge’ so you can tell this deal is getting better all the time. It’s now just one notch down from ‘super-ginormous.\'”

  2. “Neitzel gave no explanation for the doubling of his projections.”

    Must have forgotten a totally-legit-and-not-at-all-fictional multiplier there in the original calculations.

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