Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

How UWM Deal Will Affect the Bucks

UWM’s naming rights for old U.S. Cellular Arena could change where new NBA arena is built -- and what happens to Bradley Center.

By - Jul 3rd, 2014 11:01 am
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Copyright © 2005 Sulfur

U.S. Cellular Arena. Copyright © 2005 Sulfur

It was former Milwaukee alderman Fred Gordon who once dubbed Frank Gimbel “Mr. Clout.” Gimbel, the attorney and longtime board chair of the Wisconsin Center District, has wielded power over Downtown for decades, given the WCD’s control over the convention center, the old U.S. Cellular Arena and the Milwaukee Theatre. Remarkably, Gimbel continues to hold the whip hand over the WCD, even though his appointment to the board expired in May 2012, as Michael Horne has reported. And Gimbel recently used his power to cut a key deal with UW-Milwaukee that could have a lot of reverberations.

At first glance the deal might seem pretty straightforward. U.S. Cellular decided not to renew its deal for naming rights to the 1950s-era arena that was the original home of the Milwaukee Bucks. And so Gimbel contacted university officials, given that the UWM Panthers have played in the arena for years. UWM agreed to buy naming rights to the arena for a cost of $3.4 million over the 10-year period running from 2014 to 2024, with an option to extend it to 2029.

Gimbel accomplished a lot with this deal. For starters, it assures that UWM, which had once flirted with building its own basketball stadium on campus, stays at the arena, generating rental income for the facility. It also assures that UWM isn’t tempted to switch to the Bradley Center, after it loses the Milwaukee Bucks to a new arena.

But it also puts Gimbel in a better position when the talk comes of tearing down an arena. Both Gimbel and Steve Costello, president and CEO of the BMO Harris Bradley Center, have conceded that the city won’t need three arenas, and once a new NBA arena is built for the Bucks, one of the older ones will have to go. In the eyes of the public, the much newer and more prestigious Bradley Center might be the logical candidate to save.

But that calculus suddenly looks different now. While the Bradley Center would be a white elephant that no longer served as the home of the Milwaukee Bucks (nor the Marquette Golden Eagles, which would probably move to the new arena), Gimbel’s venerable arena now carries the name of the UWM Panthers and you’d be taking away its home.

“That was an important factor in our discussions on naming rights,” Gimbel admits to me. “It would be harder to tear down the arena.”

It also buttresses Gimbel’s response to Department of City Development Commissioner Rocky Marcoux, who has proposed that the old arena and Milwaukee Theatre be torn down to provide space for a new Bucks arena.

Gimbel notes that that U.S. Cellular arena has typically generated more income than expenses and returns that surplus, plus the naming rights money, to help support the WCD and convention center. Without that money, taxpayers would be on the hook to provide more support.

But now Gimbel has an additional argument: this arena is the temple of Panther basketball, Mr. Marcoux, and you are now attacking the state’s second biggest university. All of which makes it more likely a new NBA arena would be built north of the Bradley Center, where the Bradley Center has been buying up land, and more land is also available in the Park East corridor.

For UWM, the deal helps solidify their ongoing transition into an expanding campus with satellite locations in the city and will “further position UWM as Milwaukee’s University” as UWM officials noted. Marquette’s basketball team is likely to move to the new NBA arena; they have long helped subsidize the Bucks who get a chunk of the revenue generated by Golden Eagle games at the Bradley Center, and MU always plays nicely with Milwaukee’s power structure, which will want the subsidy to continue.

That leaves only the Milwaukee Admirals, for whom the Bradley Center was built, but no one will want to save it for minor league hockey. As for the concerts at the Bradley Center, they’ll need to move to the new NBA arena, because that, too, will generate revenue that helps support the new venue and its main tenant, the Bucks. Costello, of course, could be out of job should the Bradley Center be torn down, though the Bucks owners might want to hire him to run the new NBA arena.

The competition between Gimbel and the Bradley Center goes back decades. Gimbel ran the old MECCA board, which originally ran the convention center, arena and auditorium, and after the Bradley Center was built, he was forced by city officials to sign a 12 year agreement giving the Bradley Center total control over his arena’s bookings plus 15 percent of its gross rental fees during that period. Milwaukee taxpayers had to make up the difference for the money lost.

Some 15 years later, Gimbel struck back. Bradley Center officials wanted to build a new mid-sized 4,500 seat theater to book touring music and theater shows, in hopes it would eventually spin off revenue to support the Bucks. It’s open to question whether it would have worked, but it certainly would have taken business away from Gimbel’s arena and auditorium, so he quickly moved to renovate and modernize the ancient auditorium, turning it into the beautiful Milwaukee Theatre. (I wrote about this in detail for the Journal Sentinel.)

The old arena and Milwaukee Theatre use union labor, while the Bradley Center doesn’t. Odds are the Bucks’ new owners will want a non-union facility and will want total control over it, to assure they maximize and grab all revenue. How that will work when the facility is tax supported remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, a new report shows what some suspected: the Milwaukee Bucks are a profitable team. According to a confidential memo the NBA sent to all 30 teams in early June and reported on by Grantland,  the Bucks are projected to make $14.8 million in basketball-related net profit for the 2013-14 season, due to revenue sharing. “Milwaukee will get about $18 million from revenue sharing and $3 million more from luxury tax payouts, easily eclipsing the $6.5 million the team lost on its own account.”

“The Hornets and Pistons would be dead without revenue sharing,” the story also noted. “Charlotte is projected to lose nearly $34 million in basketball operations, and its monster estimated $22 million revenue-sharing check can’t make up for that. Ditto for Detroit’s $26 million loss and estimated $10.6 million revenue-sharing.”

This will add difficulties to those arguing the Bucks need a new, tax-supported arena because it is not a competitive team. Now that the NBA has moved toward more revenue sharing (though unfortunately still far short of what the NFL does), the Bucks are profitable even when playing in an outdated facility like the Bradley Center. Now it’s more a matter of how much more profitable, and more competitive the long mediocre team could become in a state-of-the-art arena.

Short Takes

-Businessman Ron San Felippo is involved in an effort to transform the Grand Avenue Mall, and has suggested the convention center might want to use some of the space. Gimbel seems lukewarm as to its workability: “I’m like Harry Truman. Someone would have to show me,” he says.

-And just how useful is the Bradley Center? “It’s unfortunately a museum-quality facility,” says Gimbel. “It’s a hockey arena so the sight lines aren’t good, the seats aren’t good.” Whereas the newly renamed UWM Panther Arena, he notes, is a vintage classic “a great arena” offering “a great experience” for patrons. “Fans love it.” No one can say Gimbel isn’t frank.

More about the New Bucks Arena

27 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: How UWM Deal Will Affect the Bucks”

  1. Andy says:

    Ha, I love Gimbel’s description of the arena and Bradley Center. Not only is the arena an outdated dump, but the sight lines are designed around the same hockey/indoor soccer space as the Bradley center and are thus just as bad. The interior of that place reminds me of a 50’s high school that has yet never been renovated. Complete with asbestos tiles, low tile ceilings, etc… just missing the lockers. Great pitchman though.

  2. David says:

    I am all for a new arena. However, I’m tired of the downtown power brokers calling all the shots. Initially, Rocky Marcoux was on record saying that the new arena should be located as close to Wisconsin Avenue as possible. However, he’s since backed off and is now allowning Gimble to spout off that he thinks the new arena should be in the Park East. This would be a huge mistake. We keep making the same mistakes in this city – we need connectivity. A Park East location would not provide the catalytic development spark we need. We may as well put it next to Miller Park. We keep creating these islands of development. The new arena can redefine the city west of the river if its located correctly. We have way too many dead spots.

  3. wis. Conservative Digest says:

    Gimbel is classic example of why Milwaukee is mess. The Wisconsin Center was built too small and the Milwaukee theater has been mess from beginning. These clowns have held power for years and Milwaukee is big mess.
    Only person right was Belling.

  4. I would consider tearing down the Bradley Center and keeping the Arena. It is a much better building. The Bradley Center was built when we didn’t know better. It is ugly and way too big.

  5. Patrick says:

    You would tear down the newer arena because of a name? If it’s that big of a deal then wait 10 years and tear down the US Cellular Arena.

  6. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Patrick: Unless you give them $200 mil, taxpayers will not, there is no problem.

  7. Matt says:

    Oh I can say Gimbel isn’t frank. His love of the arena is directly proportional to the power it provides him personally, but his royal Frankness would never admit that. The White Elephant is the Milwaukee Theater he rammed down our throats, which is used for what? Looks like the next big event there will be Robert Irvine Live in October. Which leads to the question “Who is Robert Irvine?”

    Tear down everything Gimbel taxes for and build a new stadium there. I’m sure UWM (when they get off probation for lackluster academics) would be willing to play in a decent building. Name it after Frank and maybe he’ll stop the self centered power grabs.

  8. Amos Andrew says:

    Funding
    WCD receives no property tax money or Federal, State or local subsidy. Its operations are funded by operating revenues. Special sales taxes on hotel rooms, on prepared food and drinks sold in restaurants and taverns, and on car rentals repay a $185 million bond issue that funded the Midwest Express Center project, and provide funding to Visit Milwaukee. None of these tax revenues are used to fund WCD operations.

  9. Philip says:

    We had Millee Park rammed down our throat (Stick it to ’em!) after our former Brewers owner said it should be for baseball only & he’d pay for it. I see none of this having to do with the common good! Playpens for the super rich do nothing for the social infrastructure: adequate housing for the poor affords a more stable life for their children, enabling them to have a better chance in education. When everyone in society does better, we have a better chance to become what our founders envisioned. When we pander to the elite, we hasten our descent into corporate fascism! I’ll have none of it!

  10. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Phillip, you are right. There are numerous studies that show that these teams do little or nothing for the economy. First we must attend to the schools, crime, poverty, jobs. Putting on a tax for some millionaires running back and forth, down a wood floor, does little. I like Marquette, UWM, these kids work hard. Pros just coast, till playoffs.

  11. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Amos, do you really believe that those taxes levied are not state taxes on People?. Please see your priest and confess.

  12. David says:

    Quit being so dramatic Phillip and WCD. The County built and funded County Stadium back in the 50s without a team. We also built and funded the Arena. Public finacing for stadiums and arenas is nothing new. Affordable housing is another issue.

  13. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Milwaukee is football and baseball town. we draw 3 million people and more on TV so that it pays us back in spades. Basketball in this town has UWM, Marquette and the listless Bucks, No one cares about them. Pro basketball is boring. In order to get people to Bucks games they have to give away tickets. The economic benefits for this price are nil. We have big priorities in Milwaukee: crime, schools, jobs, poverty, unemployment for youth bad management etc. Spending 400 million or more for the bucks is crazy. They have the where withal to build their own playpen. There not any votes for this turkey.

  14. David says:

    WCD… you seem to forget that the Milwaukee Brewers may have been the worst franchise in all of sports prior to the construction of Mileer Park. Would you have called Miklwaukee a baseball town in the mid 90s when we were drwaing 8,000 people a game? The Bucks throughout the 70s and 80s were selling out games regularly. Just because you don’t like the NBA basketball does not mean we are not a basketball town. Let’s get this built.

  15. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    David, good, you go ahead and build it but there will not be any money to pay to line the pockets of these NY hustlers that bought the team or the over paid guys running up and down the curt at half speed.

  16. Urban Dweller says:

    I love the people who, through ignorance, insist on calling the Milwaukee Theatre a “white elephant.” Besides the Bradley Center auditorium plan Mr. Murphy mentions, around the same time, Summerfest floated a proposal to build a 4,000-5,000-seat indoor amphitheater on the lakefront. This shows there was a RECOGNIZED market demand for a facility of this size. The Wisconsin Center District simply possessed, in the Milwaukee Auditorium, the capacity to make it a reality! The building just needed to be reconfigured with sloped seating and a modern stage. It was good stewardship of a community asset, brought to fruition for a mere $41 million, with zero impact on anyone’s property or income taxes. Either competing “new” proposal would have cost $150 million or more – if they could even survived the fight over financing.

    The Milwaukee Theatre is more than an entertainment venue. It also fills the same role the Milwaukee Auditorium always did – as a site for gatherings of all kinds, including conventions, corporate, religious, political and civic assemblies. It is part of Milwaukee’s convention package. People should be glad we have this selling point in a city with inadequate convention hotel space and terrible accessibility by air.

  17. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Milwaukee theater is white elephant, could have been built much cheaper by dumping the old Auditorium outline. Bad pilings mess. Not used. Dumbbunnies that built convention center, Gimbel, did bad job. we pay for those things in taxes dummies.

  18. Urban Dweller says:

    What taxes, Wisconsin Conservative Digest? Back up what you are saying. Be specific, please. My money says either you don’t know – or you won’t say, because the truth would dilute your lies.

  19. James Pease says:

    The basic premise of the following argument is that if any new facility for the Bucks is built, it won’t be built downtown no matter how much lip service is offered to that desire.

    1. I’m all for UWM assuming naming rights for the arena. The bigger the presence of the U. around Milwaukee, the better for the U and the city. How that impacts the Bradley is sort of a moot point. That anyone wants to maintain the 35 year-older arena while declaring the Bradley a white elephant just underscores the true nature of the demand for a new facility. It would seem it has nothing to do with sight lines (c’mon, what’s the difference between hockey, soccer, arena football and basketball as far as sight lines are concerned; they’re all played on similar shaped and sized playing fields and it’s difficult to see how seating angles add or detract from one but not another). Too, how is it that the Bradley’s newer infrastructure is falling apart and economically unviable of being maintained or upgraded while the arena just keeps plugging away? It isn’t now, nor has it ever been, about the Bradley’s amenities. If additional gift shops, bars, restaurants, etc. are necessary to draw more (upscale) fans, that could be fixed by adding on adjacent business towers. The bottom line is that the Bucks need to increase the base revenue generated/ticket sold because that impacts both their bottom line but also the rest of the NBA due to revenue sharing, and the two things they can’t draw increased revenue from at the Bradley are additional luxury boxes and parking. It needs to be recognized that creating greater ancillary economic development for neighboring businesses isn’t in the Bucks best interest; in fact, that’s exactly what they’re trying to increase their revenue from.

    2. There isn’t a chance in hell that any new facility for the Bucks will be built closer to the inner-city. There are already numerous surrounding county legislation of non-support for contributory funding. Suburbanites, generally, aren’t interested in participating in the urban environment or economic development and neither are the Bucks. The Park East corridor as a placement for a “new downtown arena” isn’t any more viable for the Bucks now than it was for the Brewers 15 years ago. Only open-minded, dedicated urbanites would imagine this as a solution. Unless public funding will only be placed on the shoulders of City of MKE residents, a new downtown facility won’t happen.

    3. So, what is the only solution? After who knows how long a period of angst and political/social/business reality, the only logical conclusion is that any new facility will be built along the east border of the Miller Park parking lot, sort of in MKE and improving the valley development to assuage city residents while being an acceptable compromise for suburbanites fearful of dipping their toes too deep into the evil city. The infrastructure exists. The Bucks will be able to monopolize fan expenditures for both parking and ancillary spending. Brookfield residents will be able to attend while not getting involved and confused.

    4. What’s wrong with UWM taking over the arena and Marquette and the Admirals taking over the Bradley? Nothing has to be taken down. The idea that Marquette has to follow the Bucks is preposterous; there is new leadership at MU that has the UWM experience, is intelligent and won’t blindly follow the Bucks to their new MECCA.

  20. Dave Reid says:

    @James I really don’t see the Valley as an option, and why would the Brewers want to give up their parking. Further, it just doesn’t seem like the City of Milwaukee would support this (unless it was part of a much large plan to redevelop all of those lots). If it does get built I feel pretty confident it goes right next to where it is today as the land is already there. Not in the Park East but on the land that has been slowly assembled there… Note: The moving of the Gimpfel Brewery (http://urbanmilwaukee.com/building/gipfel-brewery/) and recently the tearing down of a former MATC building.

  21. Tom D says:

    James, the only reasons a downtown baseball stadium wasn’t viable was (1) Bud Selig didn’t want a downtown stadium and (2) tailgating would be impaired. Neither of these has anything to do with the Bucks.

  22. James Pease says:

    There is minimal overlap of the seasons and conflicting dates but there is plenty of room to spread additional blacktop in the valley. For the majority of the Bucks season, the Miller Park lot is sitting empty. But that doesn’t address any of my other arguments. The Bucks are interested in maximizing profit, not urban development. Why would they invest in a new facility that would allow neighboring businesses to siphon off potential income? And why would they build a facility that requires a large portion of their fan base to go where they don’t want to go? The Atlanta Braves are building a new ballpark out in the X-way accessible burbs even though there is absolutely nothing wrong or outdated about their current park.

    Yeah, I could well be wrong but I don’t think that the bottom line will have anything to do with urban development or planning. It will have to do with income maximization and implied racism.

  23. Andy says:

    What the… Where do you people come up with this stuff? Is there anything NOT related to racism these days?

    Despite strongly supporting a new arena, including some public assistance, I still thought your post, James, was accurate. Until the last three words.

  24. Tom D says:

    Why should the Bucks’ owners be interested in an arena in an urban setting? Because they are from New York and know that urban arenas attract more people than suburban, asphalt-surrounded venues.

    Metro NYC has five separate NBA-size arenas–three in urban centers (Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden, Brooklyn’s Barclay Center, and Newark’s Prudential Center) and 2 suburban arenas (Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum and New Jersey’s Izod Center), and both suburban arenas are failures.

    Until a few years ago, the Izod Center (then called the “Continental Airlines Arena”) had both NBA and NHL teams. Both teams have since fled for urban quarters–the Nets to Brooklyn and the Devils to Newark. Nassau Colosseum goes dark–no NBA/NHL team–next year when the NHL’s Islanders decamp to Brooklyn.

    These guys know that surrounding your arena with a sea of asphalt (like Izod and Nassau) doesn’t bring success.

    And besides, downtown Milwaukee has lots more parking (pun intended) than Miller Park–over 70,000 spaces vs 20,000 or 30,000 at Miller Park.

  25. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Urban area is best and as long as they will be paying for it they get to pick.

  26. David says:

    The arena will be built in a downtown location because the Bucks owners want the facility to attact people 365 days a year. Restaurants and shops will be open whether a game is being played or not. Miller Park did want the parking cocessions, but tailgating was also a factor. In addition, the facility will attract far more events if downtown.

  27. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    WSJ today shows that 35% of people follow football, 14% follow baseball, though in Milwaukee that is higher and only 6% follow Pro Basketball. So your really think that 94% of the Milwaukee taxpayers group is going to present these NY hustlers with 300 million in tax money? Pro basketball is boring, college fun. We have enough arenas for our college teams, let us push them, we will be better off.

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