Months ago, I figured that the week of April 16 would be a good time to go on a week-long trip with my girlfriend to Amsterdam, The Hague, Normandy and Paris. What could I miss? The season was ending that day and the Bucks were clearly not going to be playing postseason basketball, so it seemed like as good of a time as any to disappear from the world of Bucks basketball for a few days.
Well, you know the rest. The Bucks' sale process shifted into high gear in late March and early April, and by the time I was getting ready to leave it was apparent that some kind of big news was likely to break by the time the NBA's Board of Governors met on April 17 and 18. Ultimately, the big news broke a day earlier, which meant I wrote my "breaking news" piece on the official sale of the team to Marc Lasry and Wes Edens from my friend's porch in The Hague, Netherlands--about an hour after landing in Amsterdam, and about five minutes before the battery on my computer (still without an adapter for European outlets) decided it had had enough. Not the best timing for the biggest bit of Bucks news in decades, but so it goes.
I wasn't able to check out video of the press conference with Lasry, Edens, Herb Kohl, Marc Marotta, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, and County Executive Chris Abele until I got home last weekend, but wanted to post it in case anyone else had missed it. You've likely already heard the highlights of the video above, but it's worth a look if only to see and hear the tone of the proceedings. While we all know there's a long way to go before the Bucks' future in Milwaukee is assured, this was a huge step in the right direction, and seeing Barrett and Abele playing the role of cheerleaders was an encouraging sign.
Of course, two big checks have to be written in order to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee, and the sale of the team was the first. The next one will have to cover a new arena for the team to play in, a topic that will draw plenty of debate in the coming months--in particular the question of how much public funding may be needed to seal the deal. But despite all the buzz about the topic to date, details have been sparse regarding what a project might actually look like. We know it will likely cost $400+ million, we know Herb Kohl, Lasry and Edens have promised at least $200 million to the project, and we know that plenty of people will stand in the way of any public funds making up any remaining difference.
That alone isn't surprising, nor should it be cause for alarm. The $200 million figure proposed by the Bucks is an opening figure, conveniently mirroring the money that Vivek Ranadive's ownership group pledged towards the Kings' arena campaign in Sacramento a year ago. As far as opening salvos go, it's a big number. But it's presumably also not a final number.
Thankfully more private dollars are certainly out there; even the BMO Harris Bradley Center was able to raise $18 million as part of a 2012 capital campaign, and Lasry and Edens' promised contribution included "at least" as an important qualifier. So ultimately this is neither extortion nor charity, but a negotiation that will involve a complex web of public and private stakeholders, all of whom have plenty to gain and lose depending on the outcome of the process. Lasry and Edens likely aren't interested in owning both a team and 100% of a new arena that said team will only use 40-50 times per year, but their will may well be tested on that front over the coming months and years. Thankfully, these are guys who do deals for a living, and they don't seem naive to the challenges ahead of them. Save Our Bucks has a good read on some of the main talking points that are already drawing attention in the local media, and hopefully these sorts of discussions will help elevate the conversation to clarify the big picture issues and draw attention to the broader opportunity set at play.
We'll have much more on the sale and the arena process this week, starting with a couple podcasts as well as ongoing coverage of the process as everything unfolds. Odds are if you're reading this then you're most likely a Bucks fan more predisposed toward supporting public financing, but we also know that reasonable people will disagree on the topic. Ultimately, we hope to inform without telling people what to think, and hopefully the tenor of public debate on the topic will favor problem solving over politics.