The recent opening of the Fiserv Forum resulted from a combination of remarkable commitments and collaboration from the public and private sector. The men and women that provided guidance to the project led by Bucks ownership, our elected local and state political officials, business and community leaders, worked together to make the Fiserv Forum a model for creating a public – private partnership. Their efforts have also created a new entertainment and sports district which provides a nucleus to inspire job and economic development in the City of Milwaukee.
Herb Kohl (Kohl) was the owner of the Milwaukee Bucks (Bucks) for 29 years and gave us competitive NBA basketball in Milwaukee. Kohl was determined to maintain his legacy by keeping the team at home and to preserve the name “Milwaukee” in the Milwaukee Bucks. The preservation of the team in Milwaukee, through selling to a committed ownership group, may have meant more to Kohl than the sale price.
Kohl, for his legacy, made the right choices by selling to a group led by Wes Edens (Edens) and Mark Lasry (Lasry). Edens and Lasry had big visions, big pocketbooks, a history of big successful deals, and a big futuristic vision for Milwaukee. Kohl made certain that his sale was a lock-in for a new facility by giving back a part of the purchase price for the purpose of constructing a new arena, and by gaining a personal commitment from the two new owners to likewise contribute. Ownership was acutely aware that a failure to construct a new arena suitable to NBA standards could result in relocation.
In most communities, financial funding for any type of professional sports facility, where wealthy owners are benefactors of public subsidies, becomes a vicious stadium debate. The Bucks funding did not result in public outcries or public recalls. Yes, there were constructive discussions as to what methodology should be utilized as a funding source for a new arena. The process utilized to create the new arena, with almost equal contributions by the public sector and private entities, the rapidity in approval, and that acceptance by the public of an investment that may have tremendous incremental value to Milwaukee and Wisconsin, makes the Fiserv Forum special and an excellent model for future public-private projects.
So the Bucks’ owners, in partnership with the State of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Center District, Milwaukee County, and the City of Milwaukee, in record time have created a funding mechanism, a new state of the art arena, and a sports and entertainment district that will have an indelible mark on Milwaukee’s future.
The Milwaukee commitment was also honored by selling minority ownership interests to powerful local names that are fixtures in Milwaukee, including Gus Ramirez, Austin Ramirez, Marc Stern, Adam Stern, Jeff Joerres, Craig Karmazin, Jim Kacmarcik, Ted Kellner, Keith Mardak, Teddy Werner, Mike Kocourek, Jon Hammes, Giacomo Fallucca, Gale Klappa, and later hedge fund owner David Einhorn and even future Hall of Fame Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, to name a few. Lasry and Edens also welcomed an African-American consortium (Partners for Community Impact) which included some of Milwaukee’s best known African American leaders including Cory Nettles, Chuck Harvey, Virgis Colbert, Michael Barber, and Valerie Daniels-Carter. Although Lasry and Edens maintain management control, the Bucks’ ownership has a strong contingent of Milwaukee and Wisconsin powerhouses who lend further credence that the Bucks are destined and tied to Milwaukee. And the investors have been well rewarded for their financial confidence in an NBA basketball franchise. Forbes Magazine, which values professional franchises every year, in its 2018 NBA team valuations listed the approximate value of the Bucks as $1.075 billion. Which means that in the four years since the Bucks were sold, at least according to Forbes calculations, the team has approximately doubled in value.
With ownership and financing in place, the $524 million arena proceeded to construction, which has been on time and on budget, and without the need to look at legal documents for overrun cost sharing provisions. Wisconsin contractors, a livable wage, and Milwaukee community participation were keys to further envisioning this community based partnership.
Normally naming rights partners are announced well in advance of the commencement of construction of the new facility. This was not the case in Milwaukee. There were a multitude of potential naming rights partners, and it was presumed that Foxconn would end up putting its name on the arena for what was the advertised as an annual naming rights fee from $7-10 million. With the arena about ready to open, there was finally an announcement on July 26, 2018 that Fiserv Co. would become the new naming rights partner of the Bucks for the arena and entertainment district. Fiserv Co. will pay an unreported amount for the 25 year deal, and the new arena will be named Fiserv Forum. Fiserv was founded in Wisconsin over thirty years ago, and is a leading provider of technology to banks and related business around the world. Its CEO, Jeffery Yabuki, described the partnership with the Bucks as a part of a transformation of the company. “It’s not just about technology, it’s about life.” Fiserv, a fortune 500 company, will only increase the arena’s visibility nationwide and internationally.
Sometimes buildings not only serve their functional purposes, but become visual landmarks within a community. The new arena has become the latest iconic addition to Milwaukee’s cityscape, joining the likes of the Calatrava Art Museum and the newly constructed Northwestern Mutual Tower.The architectural firm, Populous, made certain that the new arena was unique in shape and design, and absolutely unmistakable rather than static, boxy, or mundane. The new 17,500 seat arena was intended to be dramatic in form with its 724,000 square feet of space, making it a community living and play room. Adam Silver (Silver), Commissioner of the NBA, in a recent visit to Milwaukee, called the new arena’s exterior beautiful.He stated, “I’ve seen arenas all over the United States, all over the world for that matter. And they’ve done a fantastic job. Architecturally, aesthetically, it fits really well within the community” “This is the new standard in the league,” Silver said. Silver has also reiterated the commitment to bringing the All-Star Game to Milwaukee saying that now they just have to “pull out [their] calendars and figure out what year makes the most sense.” The Bucks made a bid which was presented in March of 2018 to the League offices in New York for either the 2022 or 2023 All-Star activities.
Not only have the new owners worked to provide a stunning visual for our community, but the Bucks’ also chose well its new leadership face in Peter Feigin (Feigin), a perfect fit for Milwaukee. Feigin, who brought to Milwaukee a pedigree background of management and marketing, became the President of the Bucks in 2014 at a time of a lagging and stagnant economy, and with Milwaukee suffering from an inferiority image. A brash New Yorker, a Dennis the Menace loveable personality, it was apparent that no was not an acceptable answer to Feigin. Feigin can walk with kings or paupers, and blends in well with Milwaukeeans. But more importantly, Feigin has become Milwaukee’s goodwill ambassador who has not only touched the game of basketball, but every aspect of Milwaukee life. He has sold the proposition that an NBA team is not only a sports asset, but also a community partner. He has sold the proposition that Milwaukee, its new arena, and the “Greek Freak” experience is a destination place that competes in the world of entertainment. And he has sold, as an incredible marketing agent, the proposition that a new arena was the future face of Milwaukee, and the future for maintaining bright minds and uplifting community spirit in Milwaukee.
Feigin has surrounded himself with youth, technology, a work-ethic model, and some extraordinary talent to guarantee Milwaukee that the Bucks are operating at the highest levels. The Bucks have also sent out a strong message that promotion of deserving employees will take precedence over recruiting from outside the Bucks in order to maintain a strong organization. As such, Jon Horst, who had served as Director of Basketball Operations from 2008-2017, was awarded on June 16, 2017 with the honor of becoming the General Manager of the Bucks.
Fiserv Forum is a state-of-the-art, basketball-first, facility. The seating in the new arena is perfectly crescendoed for the game of basketball. The new basketball arena’s concentric seating configuration will bring more fans closer to the court which will provide a better experience and intimacy for fans. Not a bad seat in the house. The new arena may be one of the most technologically enhanced and best designed arenas in the country with gigantic LED screens, high-speed Wi-Fi, technological security devices, a gigantic scoreboard, and a LEED silver certificate. It is fan friendly, a smart building, and environmentally responsible. The technology and extraordinary acoustical system puts Milwaukee in the gold standard for sports and entertainment facilities that will attract high level events and entertainment. Feigin, who toured many of the top sports and entertainment venues around the world and borrowed some of their best practices, has said, “[i]t’s so dramatically different from any experience (people) have had, whether it be in entertainment at theaters, whether it be at other ballparks like Miller Park, or Lambeau (Field) or the Bradley Center […] we’ve taken the best practices and some innovation over the last 25 years and applied it to make (Fiserv Forum) incredibly experiential.”The new arena could also mean Milwaukee may be the recipient city for the Democratic Convention, which will be held from July 13th to July 16th of 2020. The Lasry family has close ties to the Democratic Party and the Milwaukee committee is being chaired by Alex Lasry, Executive Vice President of the Bucks, who has guided the bidding process and helped to raise funds for the host committee.
In addition to the technological upgrades, the concessions throughout the arena are a colloquial collection of Milwaukee’s finest local food vendors. Under what the organization calls MKEats, the new arena will feature food offerings from ten local restaurants including Solberman’s Pub and Grill, the Laughing Taco, Iron Grate BBQ, FreshFin Poke, and Collectivo Coffee, to name a few. Eating there truly feels like a Milwaukee and community experience.
In my article for the Marquette Sports Law Review entitled Sports.comm: It Takes a Village to Build a Sports Facility published in 2011, I foresaw the future that a sports facility would not stand alone without a concomitant real estate development. I concluded that:
Sports venues have become a catalyst for urban transformation or revitalization. A sports facility is a destination place, an entertainment district, a bundling stimulus, a real estate development, and a place where people can work, eat, watch, congregate, buy, and socialize. Sports facility development is nothing more than real estate development. If constructed thoughtfully, a sports facility could convert the image of a league or team owner from a tax vulture into a long-term leader and visionary for a community. Moreover, a newly constructed or renovated venue can bring complete renewal and revitalization to blighted areas, environmentally hazardous sites, aged communities, or near-downtown areas. Real estate development has become a central component of sports facility development, and the results thereof—urban revitalization and transformation—may be as important as the building of the sports facility itself.
Sports facility development is nothing more than another form of real estate development. Many sports facilities are built in core urban areas that are blighted and in need of renewal projects. The Bucks entertainment district is a thirty-acre district in the heart of Milwaukee consisting of a state-of-the-art arena, a public entry plaza, a parking deck, a Bucks’ training facility, entertainment block, and other real estate development to be determined and announced. Feigin has said, “[t]here aren’t too many Top 50 cities in the country where you can develop thirty-acres of contiguous land.” Sports facilities should be the anchor tenant for development districts, a sports.comm, where people live, work, socialize, eat, become educated, shop, and congregate. Essentially the Bucks are in the business of economic development, and have taken the step to create a planned community, creating the sports and entertainment district, and all the benefits associated in the form of real estate development. It may be that what goes on outside the arena is more important than what goes on inside.
Feigin believes that the new arena might help transform the city’s downtown, reshape the perception of the city as well, and maybe even create a greater melting pot for Milwaukee. Edens says that the Bucks organization wants to be helpful by engaging with the communities that neighbor the new arena and try to bring in jobs to the community. “Economic development, jobs, keeping people employed, helping people live a good life — a better life for their kids than they’ve had. That’s what it’s all about,” said Edens. The Bucks reinforce Milwaukee’s image of being “big league” for a game that has truly an international following. The Bucks organization has been proactive in requiring its construction contractors to hire Milwaukee city and county residents.The Bucks also agreed to pay wages of at least $12 per hour for service sector jobs, which will escalate by 2023 to $15 per hour.
Lasry and Edens are winners in life and so, too, will be winners of games. The Bucks have boldly proclaimed the “future is here.” The new ownership group has the capital and is not afraid to spend the capital to win. Being a participant over the last several years in the playoffs, the hiring of a new coach in Mike Budenholzer (who has been named NBA Coach of the Year and lead the Atlanta Hawks to a 60-22 record in 2014/2015), and with anchorman Giannis Antetokounmpo, “a telegenic frontman poised to become a league-wide household name for years to come,” marks a “very bright and rosy” future for the Bucks.
The Bucks have created a new excitement, a new buzz.It has been estimated that 45% of NBA’s audience are under the age of 35, according to The Atlantic.Millennials are at the core of basketball’s fan base.
Why is basketball so popular and will basketball continue its popularity in Milwaukee?The NBA has gained global traction, extending its reach to multiple countries, broadcasting in multiple languages, and attracting one of sports’ most divergent audiences.With Facebook, You Tube and Twitter becoming so popular, fans can now access basketball with the click of a button.“Basketball is up close and personal.”Players are not shielded by helmets, hats, or equipment, so players become recognizable and real.The high scoring and fast-paced nature of the sport also renders it a perfect source for content for social media.And the games themselves are intense and exciting.
Therefore, we as a community and fans can say “thank you” to the Bucks by purchasing tickets. It was recently announced that the Bucks have sold over 10,000 full season ticket packages for the upcoming 2018-2019 season. Of those 10,000 full season ticket packages, over 3500 of those packages were purchased by new season ticket holders. It has also been announced that the 34 luxury suites lining the second floor of the Fiserv Forum, along with the 33 unit West Bend Lofts, which is a private suite level event space and seating area, have all been sold out.Our support, our enthusiasm, and our tickets purchases, may be the best way to say thank you to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Milwaukee’s Got Basketball Talent. Just look at the record that has been amassed to date. We are truly an NBA Championship contender.
Everything about the Milwaukee Bucks portends for a bright future.Their continued presence in Milwaukee, the strong and committed ownership group, the basketball expertise within the organization, and a committed fan base, along with one of the best arenas on the international scene, bodes well for Milwaukee and its favorite basketball team.
A special thank you to Eric Butlein, Steven Gruber, Joel Been, and Danelle Welzig for input into this article.
 Rich Kirchen, Milwaukee Bucks owners have raised nearly $118 million from minority investors, Milwaukee Business Journal, Jan. 29, 2015,https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2015/01/29/milwaukee-bucks-owners-have-raised-nearly-118.html.
 Kurt Badenhausen, NBA Team Values 2018: Every Club Now Worth At Least $1 Billion,, Forbes, Feb. 7, 2018,https://www.forbes.com/sites/kurtbadenhausen/2018/02/07/nba-team-values-2018-every-club-now-worth-at-least-1-billion/#1e0c051b7155.
 Rich Kirchen, Bucks arena construction on time, at budget, Milwaukee Business Journal, Jun. 21, 2018,https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2018/06/21/bucks-arena-construction-on-time-at-budget.html.
 Darren Heitner, Milwaukee Bucks Want Naming Rights Sponsor At $7-10 Million Per Year, Forbes, Oct. 16, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/darrenheitner/2017/10/16/milwaukee-bucks-want-naming-rights-sponsor-at-7-10-million-per-year/#1c800b1b7f24.
 James B. Nelson, Milwaukee Bucks and Fiserv Inc. strike 25 year naming rights deal for new downtown arena, journal Sentinel, July 26, 2018, https://www.jsonline.com/story/sports/nba/bucks/2018/07/26/milwaukee-bucks-arena-name-fiserv-forum/564493002/.
 Joe Lemire, Milwaukee Bucks Will Open Tech-Laden Fiserv Forum This Weekend, Sporttechie.com, Aug. 24, 2018,https://www.sporttechie.com/milwaukee-bucks-fiserv-forum-populous/.
 Rich Kirchen, NBA Commissioner Silver gushes about Fiserv Forum, restates All-Star Game commitment, Milwaukee Business Journal, Oct. 23, 2018,https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2018/10/23/nba-commissioner-silver-gushes-about-fiserv-forum.html.
 Staff, Milwaukee Bucks Name Jon Horst General Manager, NBA.com, Jun. 16, 2017, https://www.nba.com/bucks/news/milwaukee-bucks-name-jon-horst-general-manager.
 Lemire, supra Note 5.
 Maredithe Meyer, Welcome to Fiserv Forum, Biz Times, Aug. 14, 2018,https://www.biztimes.com/2018/industries/arts-entertainment-sports/welcome-to-fiserv-forum/.
 Nick Williams, 2020 DNC convention bid committee plans to show selection group “authentic Milwaukee, Milwaukee Business Journal, Aug. 28, 2018,https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2018/08/28/2020-dnc-convention-bid-committee-plans-to-show.html.
 Meyer, supra Note 18.
 Martin J. Greenberg and Dennis Hughes, Jr., Sports.comm: It Takes a Village to Build a Sports Facility, 22 Marq. Sports L. Rev. 91 (2011), Available at: http://scholarship.law.marquette.edu/sportslaw/vol22/iss1/10.
 Malika Andrews, A city divided: Bucks see new arena as downtown melting pot, Chicago Tribune, Jun. 28, 2018, https://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/basketball/bulls/ct-spt-milwaukee-bucks-new-arena-melting-pot-20180628-story.html.
 Rich Kirchen, Updated: Bucks’ Feigin makes blunt assessment of Milwaukee’s racial divide, pledges “meaningful action,’ Milwaukee Business Journal, Sept. 26, 2016, https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2016/09/26/bucks-feigin-makes-blunt-assessment-of-milwaukees.html.
 Genaro C. Armas, Mike Budenholzer agrees to become Milwaukee Bucks coach, The Associated Press, May 16, 2018 http://www.nba.com/article/2018/05/16/mike-budenholzer-agrees-become-milwaukee-bucks-coach.
 Genaro C. Armas, With a new arena on the way, the Milwaukee Bucks’ future is here, The Associated Press, Apr. 20, 2018 https://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/basketball/article-with-a-new-arena-on-the-way-the-milwaukee-bucks-future-is-here/.
 Sammy Solomon, Three Seconds: Why Basketball is the Sport for Millennials, Huffpost, Jun. 6, 2018 https://www.huffingtonpost.com/sammy-solomon/three-seconds-why-basketb_b_10301612.html.
 Maredithe Meyer, Bucks season ticket sales top 10,000, Biz Times, Oct. 10, 2018 https://www.biztimes.com/2018/industries/arts-entertainment-sports/bucks-season-ticket-sales-top-10000/.