Bill Simmons restarted the Bucks investor rumormill over the weekend when he tweeted that a sale was "very, VERY close" to approval by the league's owners, but as usual one rather important detail wasn't mentioned: the identity of the buyer(s) behind it all.
Steve Greenberg of Allen & Company, the investment banking firm running the sale process, was predictably coy in response to the rumors over the weekend, but some snooping by WISN-12 and the BizTimes Milwaukee may provide a lead on at least one potential investor, Wisconsin-based construction firm owner and real estate developer Jon Hammes.
Hammes Company provides strategic advisory, facility development and asset management services primarily to the healthy care sector, but has also made headlines as the construction management firm behind the Madison's Kohl Center and the renovation of Lambeau Field. That experience in turn led the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce to hire Hammes in January to study strategies for either building a new arena or renovating the aging BMO Harris Bradley Center (spoiler alert: the BC ain't going to cut it).
About a month later, Hammes Co. registered a $450 million equity offering with the SEC, which BizTimes and WISN-12 discovered Sunday. The SEC filing provides little detail on the purpose of the fund, so maybe it's related to the purchase of the Bucks. Or maybe not.
Even if it is, don't read too much into the $450 million figure--it's not clear how much of the team Herb Kohl is expected to sell initially, so even if the fund is meant to serve as the financing vehicle for a consortium of investors, the value of the fund doesn't imply the exact value the Bucks would be sold for. Thus far Simmons is the only person to go so far as put a price on the team, quoting a figure of $525 to $550 million on Saturday, eerily similar to the $534 million valuation the Kings sold for a year ago. That's well north of Forbes' most recent $405 million valuation of the team, but don't let that put you off. Valuing any company is as much art as it is science, and that's doubly true for assets as scarce (and toy-like) as NBA basketball teams. The main takeaway: Hammes or someone close to the company is putting a lot of money into play for something, and he's been one of the names mentioned as a possible buyer since Kohl first announced his intention to seek out additional investors in December.
While it doesn't appear Hammes would be able to buy the team outright on his own, his credentials would seem perfectly tailored to the unique challenges facing the Bucks going forward. Not only would Hammes provide the local commitment Kohl has made a requirement of new investors, but his firm also brings precisely the arena planning and construction management skills that will be desperately needed in order to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee beyond the expiration of the current lease with the Bradley Center.
Of course, that could of also be considered a major conflict of interest if and when public money goes into a new arena: tax dollars directly or indirectly going to Hammes' construction company to build an arena for Hammes' basketball team isn't exactly the sort of thing that would go unnoticed. Still, the strategic upside of having an arena-building expert among the team's investors would be significant, and it probably doesn't hurt to have an investor with ties to Gov. Scott Walker and the conservative side of state politics. It make him a strange bedfellow for a former democratic senator such as Kohl, but a more diverse ownership group would only help once the public funding debate becomes more serious.