Tim Sheehy
Letters to Urban Milwaukee

Sheehy Defends MMAC

He takes issues with latest column in Murphy's Law.


I have no qualms with the title of your story “MMAC plays Hardball on the Bucks Arena”.  Democracy is a contact sport, and the Association’s mission is to advocate on behalf of its members.

MMAC’s advocacy is underpinned by our vision for a region that is “globally competitive, providing high-value high-wage jobs, that sustain a vibrant quality of life” What I do take issue with is the assertion that we play fast and loose with facts and that our polling methods are not ethical.

Your story attempts to discredit a poll that we sponsored using comments from “polling experts”, and then makes the claim that our contention is “laughable” that the BMOBC would face a funding shortfall of $100M over the next decade without the Bucks as a tenant. Let me respond briefly to each claim:

Marquette has a fine reputation for their polling and we do not dispute that reputation. But context is also important in looking at the results you quote about “79% of state voters oppose funding for an arena” from that poll.  The question in Marquette’s poll about support for borrowing “$150M for a new arena for the Bucks” came right after asking about cutting $127M for public schools, borrowing $1.3B for roads, and cutting $300M for the UW System as part of the state budget. Quite a different context, and one that elicited a strong opinion.  But this context in our view was short other information that voters should consider.

The polling firm MMAC engaged, the Terrance Group has a national reputation for its work, you may not like the answers to the questions, but we did not make up the results (when given full context 69% supported funding for a new arena). Both the questions, their sequence and the results were shared publically. As our polling firm responded “the criticisms are not so much methodological then as personal disagreement with the proposal as described.  MMAC made the decision to release the poll in its entirety, including all introductions. There is nothing wrong with wording questions as such, so long as we are clear in releasing them.”

“What would have been wrong would be if the wording was not released.  The AAPOR (American Association of Public Opinion Research) makes clear in its disclosure statement that it is essential that all wording be released, including that of any questions prior to those released.  MMAC went beyond that by releasing the poll in its entirety, the goal of the research was to produce a poll for MMAC and its members that revealed public opinion of the arena proposal in its working complete form.”

Which brings me to your second point, that the claims we made in the questions were “laughable”. I note you did not take issue with our claim regarding the $700M loss in revenue (calculated by the Department of Revenue), so I assume that you are referring to the $100M in short fall for the BMOBC over the next 10 years if the Buck’s leave. The detail of this “claim” is as follows:

  • $25M in ongoing capital expenses and major maintenance
  • $30M in deferred major capital repairs and maintenance
  • $20M debt service
  • $25M in lost sponsorship revenue
  • $10M in net loss revenue associated with Bucks
  • $10M in lost revenue without substantial renovation

The point here is, if the Bucks leave, yes there will be some costs that go away, but bottom line “net results” indicate the state will own a depreciating asset, with no major tenant, and significantly reduced revenue sources. (My opinion, the BMOBC board has stretched and extended the life of the original capital assets, many facing their 30 year life, that’s prudent Milwaukee stewardship, but if you have a beef, take it up with the BMOBC board, not ours). This State owned facility will be responsible for ongoing maintenance, capital repairs, and a diminished ability to compete for other events (major concerts) without additional capital upgrades over and above this list provided.  In addition, the centers workforce would decline by about 330-440 jobs.

MMAC’s basic point is this, there is a calculated risk to moving forward with public investment in a new arena, but one that could attract upwards of $750M in private investment and development.  Development that is generational and transformative for Milwaukee. There is also a risk to saying no to this development. Lost state and local tax revenue, a less attractive downtown, 30 vacant acres, and no alternate plan to counter this lost opportunity. We think voters need to understand this full picture.

MMAC will be continue to be at the center of thoughtful dialogue on the region’s economic future, and we will remain committed to putting facts behind our advocacy.

Thanks for the opportunity to respond.

Tim Sheehy
Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce

5 thoughts on “Letters to Urban Milwaukee: Sheehy Defends MMAC”

  1. M says:

    If a new arena is built, the state will then own TWO rapidly depreciating assets. In any case, it will also still owe the $20M in current debt BC service (or is it $20M, plus the interest?). UWM Panther Arena enlisted a sponsor, even at its old age, so there’s hope for the BMOBC.

    Interesting that the Bucks only bring in $1M to BC a year (from what, since they get free rent?). At least the BC would still get rent from Marquette and Admirals. Is that about $1.5M a year, plus revenue from concessions, catering, suites, merch?.Without the Bucks taking their huge revenue share, the BC would have at least $3 M more a year to keep.

    There may be good reasons to try to keep the Bucks here, but they are not fiscal. Once all subsidies at every level, and Bucks revenue shares, and arena upkeep is figured in, there’s no way to make it work. Yes, someone could take it up with the BC board, including the two Bucks co-owners, but how does one do that? Call or email the guv to complain?

    People who like art and museums paid for MAM’s additions. People who like basketball (and maybe hockey?) can fund-raise for a new sports palace (or just get current & former owners to write bigger checks.). Leave the public out of it, let someone privately run an arena for the Bucks, and everyone will be happy. It should not be that hard a deal to put together.

  2. Mike Bark says:

    In Mr. Sheehy’s opinion what businesses are worthy of a taxpayer subsidy and which ones are not?

    Should the businesses that have already invested in downtown Milwaukee be out at a competitive disadvantage to an “entertainment district” that will likely not pay any real estate or personal property taxes?

    Can we acknowledge that the real reason a new arena is needed is mainly for the Bucks to be able to enhance their revenues? I mean, why have a person get dinner at Buck Bradley’s before or after the game when the Bucks can capture that revenue.

    Will there be a time when people understand that sports has become an insanely lucrative business that no longer can stake a claim for subsidies given the way values and profits have shot up? Do people understand the television contracts that the major sports get because live sports is one of the last places for advertisers to spend money?

    I understand that a lot of the big businesses in MMAC will be for this because they either stand to a) economically benefit from this or b) are businesses that are often looking for some public money when they want to do a building and such. I wonder if a poll was taken though of small businesses who are out there grinding in order to grow (ones like mine) would enthusiastically support spending tax dollars on this.

    I also wonder if the prices of NBA games have gotten to a point where they have priced most people out. The Bucks played hard this year and were fun to watch, but at most games we had entire sections of the 400 level to ourselves. It’s not cheap to even sit there, but you’re looking at $80 minimum to get into the lower bowl. A new arena will have more of those kind of seats instead of less.

    I’m a person who loves the Bucks and have held a 10 pak in quite a few years. I would hate to see them go as I have 4 sons who are now into the game. That said, people who enjoy basketball are already paying for tickets, food and merchandise and all that we really need in exchange if for the Bucks to pay their way. It’s not like going to a game is cheap and they are cutting anyone a break on ticket prices.

  3. DemCo says:

    Why is it that when the business leaders of this community, many of whom do not live in Milwaukee or Milwaukee County, tout the benefits of something as a “Regional Asset” to help us in a “Globally Competitive” environment, these same leaders do not insist that adjoining counties (sounds regional and global to me) contribute directly to the cost as they expect Milwaukee and Milwaukee County to do? Does the person who lives in Mequon and drives 15 minutes south to downtown really not benefit but the person who lives at 108th and Brown Deer does?

    When this whole debate started, these leader’s own elected officials went on record stating that their suburban counties would not be a part of any tax scheme and the business community was silent in response.

    Of course the Bucks are important to Milwaukee, but important past 124th Street and past County Line Road too. Are we in this together or not?

  4. Jerad says:

    There are a very large number of Bucks fans that live in Racine, Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee countries, first of all. And yes, an modern entertainment facility is a regional asset. When big concerts come to town, or large events like Cirque du Solei, or conventions, those are events that are attended by people from all over the metro area.

  5. Leslie says:

    I missed Bruce’s commentary, but I was one of the people contacted by the MMAC poll. I refused to finish it part way through as I felt that it was manipulative, asking people their opinions after hearing unsubstantiated “facts” about the issue. I have no strong opinions about the arena issue, but I do consider any results from this “poll” to be completely bogus.

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