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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Response Tailored for the Times

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It's official: The Milwaukee Bucks are on the NBA's endangered list. Owner Herb Kohl recently declared that if a new arena doesn't replace the Bradley Center within a few years, “Milwaukee's chances of remaining a part of the NBA are not robust.” And Kohl, while pledging some of his own wealth to the project, echoed what every pro sports owner has said for decades: The public will have to contribute a lot to this private enterprise.

The Bradley Center, opened in 1988, is one of the oldest arenas in the NBA. That fact seems to be the main reason for arguing that it has to go. The Observers, however, have their doubts.


Frank:
I read every word of the Journal Sentinel account of Kohl's statement, and nowhere did I find a specific description of why the “BC” is inadequate.

Artie:
The capacity for basketball is 18,700 or so, which is close to the NBA norm. It ain't like we're talking about moving from the Arena, which is a great venue but only seats about 11,000. And it ain't like the Bucks were turning people away at the ticket window this season.

Frank:
So the capacity is not an issue. How about the all-important luxury suites? Yup, the BC has 'em all around the lower level.

Artie:
Are they less fancy than at other places? So renovate them!

Frank:
Does the BC have “preferred” seating where you can get waiter service? Yup, I found that out when I sat courtside in 2010 with a friend who had won the tickets in a raffle. And is there a fancy-schmancy dining area for the highest-paying customers? You betcha, underneath the southwest corner seating—carving boards, gourmet this-and-that, plush bars, all that stuff.

Artie:
Plus there's Club Cambria at the north end, which involves food-drink-and-seating packages.

Frank:
And does the BC have lots of specialty food kiosks dotting the hallways, as well as specialty bars in several of the corners?

Artie:
Yup, all that stuff is there. Plus, the main concession stands are pretty efficient and there are lots of big bathrooms.

Frank:
Does the BC have nice big video screens on the scoreboard?

Artie:
Absolutely.

Frank:
Now for the sightlines. The BC was designed primarily for hockey, because Jane and Lloyd Pettit built the place with their own money and, at the time, hoped for an NHL franchise. So the view may not be ideal for basketball in every seat.

Artie:
True, but what are we talking about, girders in the way? Are the nosebleed seats here any worse than at other arenas? And who can afford to sit downstairs anyway?

Frank:
On the Bucks' website, the lowest ticket price for the lower level this season was $53.35—or $67.35 for marquee games. As we've said for years, Mr. Average Fan wants to be able to do three things: 1. See the court decently. 2. Get his food and drink quickly. 3. Get into and out of a bathroom quickly.

Artie:
Check, check and check. So what's the big problem with the BC?

Frank:
Now we get to the heart of things. It has nothing to do with the needs of Mr. Average Fan. It's all the upscale crap that teams need to cram in to create more “revenue streams.”

Artie:
Which flow from people's pockets into the players' and executives' wallets.

Frank:
Our current arena has plenty of things to drain extra dollars out of customers. But NBA economics demand more and more of that. Like, apparently, a year-round restaurant along the lines of the Friday's at Miller Park.

Artie:
So it's not good enough that I pay 25 or 30 bucks for a decent seat in the upper deck, and seven or eight for a freakin' beer? They want me to get to the place two hours early to buy an overpriced burger platter too?

Frank:
I guess so. And if I were the owner of Buck Bradley's or Major Goolsby's, I might not be too happy that the team is competing directly with me.

Artie:
I'd be skipping the restaurant for sure. But if they want to add something really useful, I've got it: a tailor!

Frank:
Huh?

Artie:
Yeah, a tailor. You arrive a little early, leave a pair of pants to be let out and they're ready for you after the final buzzer.

Frank:
And if folks are stuffing themselves with some of that unhealthy chow, they'll need bigger pants.

Artie:
Talk about your one-stop shopping! Or how about a pharmacy? When I see my ticket price, it's sure to spike my blood pressure, so why not be able to get the proper medication at the same place?

Frank:
It does appeal to the multitasking mentality. But let's get to the bottom line. Can a new arena with plenty of public financing be justified economically?

Artie:
As that lawyer who keeps yapping at us on the TV says, “These are not ordinary times.”

Frank:
Kohl acknowledged that there are quite a few other priorities for public spending that come higher than an NBA franchise.

Artie:
Like just about everything, ain'a? Public education is getting starved and Joe Taxpayer should pay for more carving boards for the folks in the front rows?

Frank:
As I said, it might be different if the existing venue were the Arena—or County Stadium, which was clearly outdated in the mid-'90s, when the Brewers won their “build us a stadium or we won't survive here” campaign. But one might argue that all the public spending on amusements like pro sports helped get city and state governments into their current mess.

Artie:
Just in basketball terms, the big argument for a new arena is that the Bucks have to stay competitive in terms of signing good players. But having the dough doesn't matter if you spend it foolishly.

Frank:
Give us more money so we can give big contracts to... Tim Thomas? John Salmons? And when the team doesn't play well, who wants to see it? This season the Bucks averaged 14,718 fans, or about 78% of capacity.

Artie:
A bad team at bad prices. No brand-new arena would solve that. And will the prices for anything be more reasonable at a new arena? Plus, I wonder if a new place just might have a higher percentage of the pricey seats downstairs and fewer of them upstairs?

Frank:
Just what happened at the new Yankee Stadium.

Artie:
I'll tell you something else that teams have to contend with now. Staying home is getting better and better as a spectating experience. With high-def and wide-screen TVs, folks can see things way better than at the venues and spend next to nothing for it. To say nothing of being spared all the damned loud music!

Frank:
The viewing experience is different for baseball. You have green expanses under the open sky—when the roof is open. But one NBA court is like any other, and the constant noise is just more deafening inside.

Artie:
It's nice that Sen. Kohl is pledging to chip in, but that's what any franchise owner should do. These guys ain't poor.

Frank:
And guess who benefits most when a new venue pumps up a franchise's value.

Artie:
Hey, why should Herbie be the only rich guy kicking in? Let's have Scott Walker tap the Koch brothers and his other billionaire pals to save the Bucks. Or track down whoever had $120 million to spend on one freakin' picture-painting, The Scream.

Frank:
I doubt any public financing will fly unless the Bucks provide a better product on the court.

Artie:
I know this: They'd better re-sign Ersan Ilyasova! He's really coming into his own. Total effort every night, 13 points and nine boards per game this season and he was second in the NBA in three-point percentage.

Frank:
Second in the league?

Artie:
Yup, 51 for 112, or 45.5%, behind only Steve Novak. Ersan is the Bucks' version of Kevin Love.

Frank:
A great fit for this needy team.

Artie:
Tailor-made!

TAGS: Milwaukee, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA, new arena, Bradley Center, Herb Kohl, owner, basketball, ticket, ticket prices, Miller Park, luxury suite, Ersan Ilyasova