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April 10, 2012

Whoops, I may have accidentally started a Milwaukee Bucks arena debate — sorry about that

While in Seattle people are still debating whether it was rude for the Mariners to complain about traffic problems from a new NBA arena when they pooh-poohed traffic concerns about their own stadium, that city's arena debates are having a more immediate impact across the country in Milwaukee, where they appear to have jump-started talks about a new Bucks arena. In an editorial today, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel hauls out several of the usual public-arena-funding arguments (the obsolescence claim, the economic impact assertion), but lands squarely on the threat that the team will move:

The Bradley Center is old and outdated by NBA standards. Although it may still look good and certainly isn't crumbling, the 24-year-old structure is a veritable dinosaur among National Basketball Association arenas.
Pushing for a publicly funded, state-of-the-art facility that could run as much as $300 million in this economic climate is a tough ticket to sell. But if groundbreaking for a Bradley Center replacement is not under way in the next five to seven years, keeping the facility's largest tenant — the Milwaukee Bucks — in Milwaukee will be nearly impossible...
For those who don't think the Bucks could leave, consider a story that appeared in The Seattle Times last month. The story listed the Bucks as one of five teams that would be a good fit for Seattle. Seattle lost its team to Oklahoma City in 2008, after unsuccessful efforts to persuade Washington state government officials to provide funding to update KeyArena.

Hey, I remember that article. The bit about the Bucks began like this:

Both Swangard and deMause say a team not often mentioned in relocation discussions that may be more tenuous than any aside from Sacramento and New Orleans is the Milwaukee Bucks.

Yep, that'd be me, rattling the relocation saber. ("Swangard" is Paul Swangard, director of the University of Oregon's Sports Marketing Center.) What actually happened, as I recall, is that the Seattle Times writer asked me which NBA teams might be ripe for a move to Seattle if the Sacramento Kings were off the table (which seemed to be the case then, though less so now). I thought about which franchises were currently griping about their arena deals and in smallish markets that might make Seattle seem attractive by comparison, and the Bucks came to mind (along with the New Orleans Hornets and Memphis Grizzlies).

Of course, I also noted that NBA teams are extremely unlikely to move unless offered "some sort of sweetheart deal," which the Seattle plan, with its 60% team-funded arena, decidedly is not. But the Journal Sentinel editors made sure not to read that part of the article, or at least didn't share it with their own readers.

WTMJ radio's Gene Mueller concludes that the Seattle Times article "may have given local civic leaders, deep pocketed players and others connected to the Bradley Center debate the chance to actually start the conversation. 'See?' they can say. 'We aren't making any threats. It's those people in Seattle who are making goo-goo eyes at the Bucks!'" Of course, Mueller wants a new arena, so he sees this as a good thing.

As for me, if anyone's actually listening, I'll say this loud and clear: The Bucks may be somewhere on some hypothetical short list to be lured to Seattle, but the odds on them actually doing so are very, very long. Replacing a 24-year-old arena to stop the Bucks from moving to Seattle would be like building a new arena in Pittsburgh to stop the Penguins from moving to Kansas City — oh wait...


Neil, if your inappropriately used offhand comment ends up leading to a new arena for my beloved Bucks, I will ship you a
platter of delicious Wisconsin cheese (as a Thank You, not a punishment).

Posted by Ben Miller on April 10, 2012 10:28 AM

I don't think anyone will miss the Bucks if they left. So it's as good as done. Hopefully, they find new life in Kansas City or Seattle, preferably the latter, because Kansas City is probably a lot like Milwaukee, demographically. The NBA is just becoming a poor product altogether.

Posted by Roger C. on April 10, 2012 04:08 PM

If i remember correctly most of the Bradley Center was donated to the Bucks by a local family its about time they step up and give back to the community and stop the threats.

Posted by Shawn on April 10, 2012 04:37 PM

The Bucks must be the most anonymous, fly-under-the-radar Big 4 sports team in the United States. I often forget there is a basketball team in Milwaukee.

Posted by Sasha on April 10, 2012 04:54 PM

I have family in Seattle and I am told that on game days for either stadia business in the International District (Chinese restaurants and the like) pretty much dries up because no one who just wants a meal is going to deal with thousands of fans and cars.

Neil, has anyone actually studied the impact of these new facilities, say ten years after they are opened? If so, what conclusions are drawn?

Posted by Alex Bensky on April 10, 2012 08:47 PM

"Although it may still look good and certainly isn't crumbling, the 24-year-old structure is a veritable dinosaur among National Basketball Association arenas."

Considering its used by college teams as well would anything of value be lost if they left?

Posted by Ben Y. on April 10, 2012 09:01 PM

Alex: Rob Baade did a study of, if I recall correctly, the Kingdome in Seattle, which was the first stadium in the International District. The impact was minimal, and disappeared by the time you got more than two blocks from the stadium.

I've certainly heard anecdotally about businesses near stadiums hurting on game days because customers are avoiding sports traffic. But I don't recall any formal studies trying to measure this.

Posted by Neil deMause on April 10, 2012 09:21 PM

If the Bucks were to move to Seattle, it would help nobody outside of giving the Minnesota Timberwolves a better shot at the playoffs. Mama always said that two wrongs don't make a right.

I rather the NBA expand to 32 teams with the teams in Seattle and Kansas City with the Timberwolves making up the Eastern Conference's North Central division with Milwaukee, Chicago, and Indiana.

Posted by Jessy S. on April 10, 2012 10:13 PM

Neil, I think you have to pay attention to demographics. In this case, the asian community isn't going to attend a Mariners game (outside of somebody from Japan)or a Seahawks game. They might attend a Sounders game and would attend an NBA game if the price were right. People will frequent their favorite establishments game day. The other people will stay away.

Posted by Jessy S. on April 10, 2012 10:33 PM

I don't think it's the people who live in the International District that either the Mariners or the restaurants are worrying about as their customer base.

Posted by Neil deMause on April 11, 2012 07:21 AM

If Seattle ends up taking the Bucks, I think they should plant a Seattle Pilots flag, Iwo Jima style, at the groundbreaking ceremony. That would be a nice touch.

Posted by Greg on April 13, 2012 12:53 PM

You wrote a fine article, but did you really have to throw salt in my wounds by mentioning the Kansas City Penguins debacle? That was first discussed in January of 2007 and we've been waiting for a team... any team (NBA or NHL) since then. The weird thing is that we ended up getting a soccer team (Sporting KC) that's been wildly popular and successful. Too bad soccer isn't a real sport.

Posted by KC Guy on April 21, 2012 10:35 AM

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