On Tuesday, the city of Milwaukee will be hosting an open forum to discuss the funding plan for a new arena to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee.
The financing has become a controversial topic for many, especially after HBO’s John Oliver ranted about the problems with public funding. He talks of using taxes for public stadiums and how it turns out useless for the area surrounding the stadium because sales and attendance remain the same or drop. The main factor for this is not the stadium being built, but that the teams he discusses are perennial losing teams with die-hard fans who attend the games but have no reason to visit the surrounding areas.
In the 2015 NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors sold out their home arena, with courtside tickets going for $1,500 to watch them play on the road to clinch the championship. For every home game in the playoffs, the arena was sold out with thousands of fans in the city and outside of the stadium supporting the team. Living in Madison, WI, I have seen first-hand how sports teams who perform well can drastically increase the sales, attendance of events and surrounding bars. For example, take the Badgers men’s basketball team. For any given home, the stadium was sold out and the surrounding bars got a boost in sales because of guests coming before, during, or after games. Why can’t that happen in Milwaukee?
Another issue I have with Oliver’s rant is that his main source or argument against public funding is based on Miami Marlins President David Samson. Samson, a UW Business School graduate, is the essence of a greedy business owner running a sports team. I have written about his strategy in the past. Samson is known in the sports world for famously selling away his players the season after winning the World Series, just so his costs would be drastically lower than is revenue. He is strictly in the business for money but could the most extreme example in all of sports. All owners and presidents of professional sports teams are (at least) multi-millionaires, but Samson brings greed to another level.
Now back to the financing for the Bucks. Of the proposed $500 million needed to build the arena, the state will pay $55 million, the city and county will pay the same or less.
The new owners and Senator Herb Kohl have agreed to pay the remaining $250 million and anything beyond $500 million that was proposed. For the state, the payment necessary for the team is negated by the income tax received from the players. The state receives income tax on all players’ salaries played within the state lines.
Losing the team would mean losing the income tax of $55 million (and more) as years go on. That leaves $195 million left to pay for the city, county and center district. Another $47 million will come from the city building a parking garage and tax-incremented funding, which are used in cities across the country on many building jobs. The average taxpayer would pay $1.38, with taxpayers in Milwaukee County footing the majority of the bill for the Bucks to stay in Milwaukee and continue generating revenue. This is an investment in the future.
By keeping the existing building as it is, the Bradley Center will need at least $16 million in repairs and maintenance. It remains unclear if taxpayers will need to cover this cost or not.
One common argument is the cutting of school funding is more important than having the Bucks remain in Milwaukee. The problem with that argument is that this deal is not in the state budget and has no effect on any UW system school money. If the arena deal goes through, the UW school budgets are cut. If the arena deal does not go through, the UW school budgets are still cut. This is a completely separate issue and has no bearing on the passing of the arena.
Finally, having been to the Bradley Center and surrounding areas for over 18 years, you would be hard-pressed to find another area of Milwaukee that needs a bigger revitalization. A Marquette University Law School Professor wrote in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the deal needs to happen to attract people and money to the city. Surrounding the current area are surface parking lots, a parking garage, and blocks of useless space to the north. Milwaukee is undergoing a culture change, and this would just enhance the quality of life in the area and help an area in need of funding.
I’m not going to argue that the owners could pay more, because they definitely could. It’s that in the long-run, this deal will drastically help the city and state make more money.
The Milwaukee Bucks are on the rise right now, bringing a young energy to the city and team that’s in dire need of help. The funding will make a statement that the Bucks will be strong for years to come.