In these days of summer weather, summer festivals (see page 1) and shaking your head at whatever idiocy comes out of Madison or Washington, one’s thoughts of course focus on …
… the Milwaukee Bucks and their wish for a new stadium to replace the Bradley Center, which the Legislature may take up this week.
Your immediate question is: Why should you care? Well, if a new stadium is built with tax dollars, those will be your tax dollars, and you probably won’t get a vote on the use of those tax dollars. If a new stadium is not built, the Bucks will leave for a market that doesn’t have a National Basketball Association franchise and wants one in the worst way — Seattle (which used to have the Supersonics before they moved to Oklahoma City), Kansas City (which used to have the Kings before they moved to Sacramento), or Las Vegas, which apparently is willing to give up some part of sports gambling to get a major pro sports team.
I keep going back and forth on whether the Bucks should get taxpayer help for their new stadium. By the standards of pro sports, the Bradley Center, which opened in 1987, is old and lacking the accouterments of modern sports facilities. I went to a Bucks game shortly after it opened and was unimpressed by the poor sight lines behind the baskets, and if you’re sitting in the upper deck, you might as well be sitting in Waukesha, or a sports bar. (It seems the lessons of poor design were learned when UW–Madison built its Kohl Center, which has no poor sight lines that I’ve noticed.)
The Bucks’ new owners, Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry, are millionaires, which prompts opponents to tell them to pay for their own arena, instead of approximately half (including the contribution of former owner Herb Kohl) as is proposed. Economists claim that spending money on sports buildings merely displaces, not creates, entertainment spending. Anyone can claim that taxpayer money — $80 million in state funds from the latest reports — can be spent on something better, in the opinion of whoever is making that claim. And there is the usual antipathy to Milwaukee and all its problems. (For instance: I went to the UW–Platteville exhibition game against UW–Milwaukee at the Arena in November. I had not gotten across the street when I was accosted by a panhandler. And there were no police in sight an hour before a game.)
The situation seems analogous to an old TV commercial in which a mechanic says “Pay me now” for maintenance, “or pay me later” for more expensive service work. These are not the days of the 1960s when, a decade and a half after the Milwaukee Hawks (formerly based in what now is the Quad Cities, believe it or not) left for St. Louis as a pit stop on the way to Atlanta, the Milwaukee Arena was sitting waiting for a tenant. These are also not the days when the Milwaukee Braves left for Atlanta, but five years later there was a bankrupt baseball franchise, the Seattle Pilots, waiting to be purchased out of bankruptcy court and moved to the existing Milwaukee County Stadium. If you think the replacement for the Bradley Center is expensive, wait until the Bucks leave and a potential new franchise wants an even bigger, better stadium built.
The Braves’ experience shows why the Bucks are a hot topic when the Bucks meet no one’s definition of a statewide team, unlike the Green Bay Packers and the Milwaukee Brewers. The Packers’ experience of decades of consecutive sellouts (in non-strike years), even during the hideous years between Super Bowl II and the arrival of Ron Wolf, Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre, proves their appeal. The $100 million spent on the Miller Park roof may have been the best $100 million ever spent on a building project in this state, because the roof guaranteed that, wherever you are coming from, if you buy Brewers tickets, the game will be played as scheduled in weather better than you sometimes find in Milwaukee.
The Braves’ departure was the result of a change of ownership, decreasing fan interest, and a market without pro sports where the roads seemed to be paved with dollar bills. (Those who watched the Braves on cable TV in the 1970s and 1980s know that was an illusion, at least until the Braves discovered pitching.) The Braves’ departure had political consequences — both the governor at the time, John Reynolds, and the state Supreme Court chief justice who ruled that the Braves could leave were punted from office. Voters can afford to oppose spending taxpayer money on a Bucks stadium and then blast legislators for letting the Bucks leave.
Given how Gov. Scott Walker treated Southwest Wisconsin with his budget vetoes (see page 1), I’d be somewhat surprised if any Southwest Wisconsin legislator voted for a Bucks stadium deal. Notice that Democrats aren’t favoring a new arena either, which is interesting given that Democrats represent Milwaukee and their constituents presumably would benefit more than someone from this end of the state.
We’ve reached the end, and I still haven’t made up my mind.