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Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010

The Bradley Center: It’s Got Game

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When the Bradley Center opened in October 1988, it was a gift-wrapped jewel for Milwaukee sports fans. The $90 million arena, paid for entirely by Jane and Lloyd Pettit, helped keep the Bucks in town and raised hopes that Milwaukee would also land an NHL team. The Pettits dropped the latter idea for financial reasons, but for more than two decades the Bradley Center has hosted the top level in minor-league hockey as well as the NBA and premier college basketball with Marquette.

These days, though, the Bradley Center is in trouble. Everyone from Bucks owner Herb Kohl to the BC's own board says the facility needs major repairs and upgrading; NBA Commissioner David Stern has begun ominous rumblings about the need for a brand-new arena; and everywhere there is talk of finding "new revenue streams," the mystic elixirs of modern sports franchises.

The Fairly Detached Observers don't deal in mega-millions, and they don't sip from any revenue streams. Their concern is whether an arena meets Joe Fan's needs. So the Observers recently visited the Bradley Center for games involving the hockey Admirals, the Bucks and MU hoopsters. Here's what they concluded.

Admirals Hockey: The Goal Is Fun

Frank: We got our money's worth, for sure. The Admirals lost to Peoria, but in a shootout, and we were right behind the south goal so we got a lot of close-up action.

Artie: Just one thing was missing from my dream game.

Frank: I know, a bench-clearing brawl. Those don't happen anymore; guys who add to a one-on-one fight get suspended.

Artie: Aside from that, the Admirals put on one heck of a show.

Frank: It's good hockey, the game goes quickly and there are plenty of fun things between periods and during timeouts.

Artie: Peewee hockey, racing cheeses and of course the "Human Hockey Puck" competition—people getting slung down the ice by a giant rubber band and knocking down inflatable bowling pins.

Frank: And on the scoreboard, the always-fun "Kiss Cam," goofy dance exhibitions and a chance to "drive" the Zamboni. All in good fun, except as a geezer I have to say...

Artie: I know, I know. Everything is just so LOUD!

Frank: It makes a simple conversation tough. I also could do without the ritual chants of "You suck!" toward the opposing goalie. But as the youngsters say, "Whatever."

Artie: What do the Admirals average in attendance?

Frank: So far this season, about 4,400, middling for the American Hockey League. Our crowd was kind of low, but it was a weeknight and there was TV competition from both the Bucks and Wisconsin basketball. Most games the upper deck stays closed, but the Admirals sometimes sell out the whole building when they have post-game concerts. Several of those are coming up. Last season the Admirals finished at about 5,800 per game.

Artie: The ticket prices are reasonable, ranging from $16 to $21, and I know there are lots of discount nights. Just check the team's Web site.

Frank: One highlight game will be Feb. 5. The UW band will be here, and they're fabulous! After the game they hit the ice for a "Fourth Period" that's like the "Fifth Quarter" after football games.

Artie: At our game, because of the low crowd, I noticed that a couple of the concession stands were closed.

Frank: Also some of the kiosks on the concourses that sell specialty stuff—ice cream, premium beers. But for most games there's the full range of concessions, including the pizza stand at the north end and the special sandwiches at the south end.

Artie: Me, I'm just a beer and hot-dog guy, and the BC meets those needs just fine. Plus, of course, the other comfort factors: room to walk and lots of bathrooms.

Frank: What were the best things about the brand-new Miller Park in 2001 and the new Yankee Stadium last spring? Wide walkways and big bathrooms.

Artie: And of course a decent view of the action from your seat. No worries there for Admiral fans. On most nights, everyone's downstairs.

Frank: And even if you're upstairs, the BC was built for hockey—longer along the east and west sides and with angled corners to give a better view of the long hockey layout. Yes, that means the "end zones" upstairs are pretty far away for basketball, but hey, it was the Pettits' money and they owned the Admirals, after all.

Artie: I have one question. What's with the Admirals' logo, with the skeleton wearing a pirate hat? Did his ship sink before the game?

Frank: No way; you saw that ship, designed by MSOE students, on the ice before the game, "crewed" by some lucky kids and Roscoe, the mascot.

Artie: The ship should stay out there during the game, and if an opponent gets a breakaway they could stick out some oars.

Frank: Scoring is tough enough already.

Artie: I'll say. Those goalies are huge, and so are their pads. Hey Admirals, put Gilbert Brown in there, tell him not to move and you'll go undefeated.

MU Basketball: A Gold Rush

Frank: I'm glad we chose upper-level seats for the Marquette game against North Carolina State.

Artie: Not bad at all. We had a real nice sightline because we were along the west side, not in an end zone.

Frank: For $25 apiece, which is higher than any Admirals ticket downstairs.

Artie: Hey, a big-time hoops program has to charge big-time prices.

Frank: If you say so. And yes, we could have sat wa-a-a-y back for 9 bucks. Anyway, our seats were just fine, with a good view of both the court and the four-sided scoreboard in the middle of the building.

Artie: They say the scoreboard needs upgrading, but it seemed fine to me. Good color and nice clear replays.

Frank: For me, the big thing about Marquette games is the energy that pours out of the student sections.

Artie: A sea of gold in the northeast corner! The band right behind the north basket. And the banners honoring George Thompson, Dean Meminger, Butch Lee and the others with retired numbers. And, of course, Al McGuire, the school's version of Vince Lombardi.

Frank: MU does a good job of working all the history into the pre-game hoopla. But I find that the lights-out, loud-music, glowering player photos and badass announcer's voice are a bit much. What, does civilization's fate depend on this game?

Artie: I like the blow-up celebrity faces the MU kids wave at opposing free-throw shooters.

Frank: Tiger Woods got an especially big laugh from the crowd.

Artie: And there are all the usual crowd-watching antics on the scoreboard.

Frank: Lord knows they have time to fill, with eight freakin' TV timeouts per game.

Artie: Still, I can't get enough of college hoops. MU wound up losing, but it was a fun afternoon.

The Bucks: Building Some Excitement

Frank: Our seats for the Bucks vs. Toronto were downstairs in the same corner where the MU students partied a few days earlier.

Artie: But they would have needed a check from home to join us. These tickets had a face value of $61 apiece.

Frank: The Bucks' Web site lists ticket prices from $10 upstairs to $145 for Club Cambria, the fancy-schmantzy area at the north end of the suite level. As for "Courtside Club" tickets, you're asked to "contact the Sales Office for pricing and availability."

Artie: Pricing, as in whether you need to surrender an arm or a leg, or both.

Frank: Well, we stayed in one piece and saw a nice 22-point dumping of the Raptors.

Artie: That's a good way for the Bucks to improve their balance sheet—more games like that. Too bad the weeknight crowd was only 12,637.

Frank: And too bad we weren't there last Friday for the big showdown against Chicago.

Artie: A full house and a hard-fought win over their top rival. I'll bet no one was complaining about the "ancient" venue as they left.

Frank: Winning is the best renovation. On our night, it didn't help that Streetlife, the house band, had the night off. There wasn't much noise at first—except for Section 212. They were jazzed all night!

Artie: Thank Andrew Bogut. He wanted to liven the place up, so he's bought 100 tickets for each game. The fans who get them—through auditions, yet—are called Squad 6 for Bogut's number and being the "sixth man." They have to stand the whole game and cheer their heinies off.

Frank: It was impressive. Organized cheers, constant horn-blowing, even the "Ole! Ole!" soccer chant.

Artie: Not a bad use for tickets that go for $96 apiece.

Frank: Or more than four times what they'd cost for the Admirals. Anyway, the prices at concession stands don't change—beer at $5.50 and $7, hot dogs at $3.50.

Artie: Plus the kiosks if you want a Guinness or some ice cream.

Frank: What more does Joe Fan need? Room to walk, food and drink if desired, enough restrooms, a relatively comfortable place to place one's butt, a decent view of the playing surface and a scoreboard that works.

Artie: Check, check, check. For me, the BC checks out just fine.

Frank: That ain't good enough, apparently. In the usual words of sports moguls, the building doesn't "generate" enough revenue.

Artie: What does "generate" revenue mean? More suites? In this economy, who's gonna pay for 'em? More places like Club Cambria? How many do you need? A full-blown restaurant or two? Cripes, how much dough does a guy have to spend to please the NBA?

Frank: Consider the Fan Cost Index, compiled each year by a group called Team Marketing Report. It estimates how much a family of four spends at sports events. The index for the NBA includes four average-price tickets, parking, two small beers, four small soft drinks, four hot dogs, two game programs and two adjustable caps.

Artie: How does the Milwaukee family come out?

Frank: The Bucks are listed with a total of $265.98, or 20th in the league. The average ticket price is given as $46, down about 4% from last season, and the total is down 2.7%.

Artie: Of course you can try cheaper seats or skip the souvenirs, but the family outlay will go well into triple digits anyway.

Frank: Any building that's almost 22 years old has maintenance issues, and the BC board says they include outdated heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment; a deteriorating roof and exterior facade; and seats that need replacing or repairs.

Artie: So replace or repair them. I don't hear anyone saying the building isn't gonna stand much longer.

Frank: More trouble. The BC ran a $4 million deficit in the last fiscal year, thanks to the recession.

Artie: But the latest state budget includes $5 million in bonding to help BC maintenance. Whatever it costs to renovate, it's gotta be a lot less than a whole new place.

Frank: Especially since a publicly funded new place would be an extremely tough sell.

Artie:TheBusiness Journal ran a piece on Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks' owner, when he was here in November to watch his team. Cuban said, “If we can control our costs as a league, I think Milwaukee is a very viable city for the NBA with or without a new arena. If we do a good job of controlling those costs, it’ll be easy. If we don’t, it’ll create a different set of challenges.”

Frank: "Control our costs." Hmm...

Artie: We're just two ordinary fans, Sen. Kohl, but how about you and your pals spend less instead of always having us spend more?

Agonizing With the Packers: It’s an Art Form

Sunday, 4:17 p.m.

(Frank's phone rings, and he knows who it is).

Frank: Hey, Gladiator is on TNT if you need something else to watch.

Artie: I thought you'd want to hear this: FIRE THEM ALL!

Frank: There's plenty of time for the Packers to make up that 17-0 deficit.

Artie: Yeah, the Patriots, Eagles and Bengals were all saying, "We have plenty of time," too.

Frank: The Pack led the league with a plus-24 turnover differential, but Karlos Dansby's strip of Donald Driver looked like what they've done all season.

Artie: This morning I heard Mark Chmura say the game would hinge on which team handles adversity better.

Frank: So far, only one team has had any adversity.

Artie: Time for the fix. Roger Goodell is calling David Stern, saying, "How can I get the refs to spin this the Packers' way?"

Frank: Um, because...

Artie: The league has to want the NFC Championship Game to be Packers vs. Favre, Round 3, as opposed to, say, Arizona-Dallas.

5:08 p.m.

Artie: So they made up three points and it's 24-10 at halftime. There's still plenty of time, but that's what they told Dreyfus on Devil's Island, ain'a?

Frank: I don't know if Mr. Goodell reached the refs, but I think he got Arizona's Michael Adams on his cell phone and said, "When you get a clear shot at Aaron Rodgers on third down, instead of drilling him please jump past him so he can make the deep throw to Jermichael Finley."

Artie: I guess he thought Rodgers would step forward. And Finley made a great catch. But when they got near the goal, if that horse-collar penalty had come with 15 seconds left instead of 4, they could have made it 24-14.

Frank: Charles Woodson did another of his "poke it loose" specialties to stop one Arizona drive, but otherwise the defense ain't doing a thing. But Rodgers and his pals are getting in gear.

6:03 p.m.

Frank: Nobody could stop anybody in the third quarter, but that onside kick turned the momentum around for the Pack.

Artie: Still, it's a 14-point spread with 15 minutes left. Maybe it's not meant to happen, like in April of '67 when Bonnie and Clyde should have won the Oscar.

Frank:In the Heat of the Night wasn't a bad choice, and it's looking like the theme for the fourth quarter. The Packers were driving as the third period ended, and if they score quickly and stop the Cardinals just once, it could be tied up pretty quickly.

Artie: And there they go! A fourth-down pass to James Jones goes all the way, and it's 38-31 less than a minute into the fourth.

7:07 p.m.

Frank: Wow! What a wacky game.

Artie: I feel like Richard Nixon in 1960—"What? It got stolen from me?"

Frank: So many turns. The Packers finally get a stop on defense, thanks to Woodson's fingertips, and march quickly to tie it at 38. But the defense can't stop Kurt Warner again, and it's 45-38.

Artie: Another march by Rodgers & Co. and it's tied again. But they score too quickly, so Arizona moves to the winning field goal.

Frank: But Neil Rackers flubs it and now it's sudden death.

Artie: The Pack wins the toss and on their first play almost win the game, but Rodgers overthrows Greg Jennings.

Frank: A short pass gets a first down but a holding penalty nullifies it. On third down, look who blitzes again—Michael Adams. This time he's in front of Rodgers, can see the ball and swats it loose.

Artie: And as I feared, it comes down to a Packer kick. But it's by Rodgers, inadvertently toeing it up to Dansby. And it's over.

Frank: At least the NFL got one compelling game out of the weekend. Troy Aikman said the Cardinals had seen "something in the middle of the field" to exploit against the Pack, and they did, all game long.

Artie: Down the middle. Makes me think of fourth-and-26 against Philly in '04. Ugh.

Frank: Another OT loss. Glad I could summon that memory for you. So this week are you a Cowboy fan, hoping they dump Brett and the Vikes?

Artie: Never! Let the Saints go marching in, I say.


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