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Bradley Center Naming Rights Sold As Milwaukee Businesses Put Dollars Behind Bucks

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The Bucks will probably have to fill the BC if they want to replace it.
The Bucks will probably have to fill the BC if they want to replace it. Milwaukee's Bradley Center Becomes the BMO Harris Bradley Center
It may not represent a long-term solution to Milwaukee's looming arena question, but Monday's announcement of fresh sponsorship dollars for the Bucks and the Bradley Center still represents an encouraging step in the right direction for the future of NBA basketball in Milwaukee.

Canadian (and Chicago-headquartered) bank BMO Harris' deal to rename the Bradley Center will understandably grab the headlines, but this deal is about much more than just one company tacking its name (rather awkwardly) onto the front of the aging BC. In brokering a six-year, $18 million sponsorship package, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce showed that Milwaukee's biggest corporations--Harley-Davidson, Kohl's, Rockwell Automation and Northwestern Mutual to name a few--are willing to pony up to keep the Bucks and the BC viable while a real solution to Milwaukee's arena needs can be sorted out.

"The investments by these committed local Champions will help extend the life of our building and enhance the fan experience to help assure the Center's continued success over the next few years," said Marc Marotta, Bradley Center Board chairman.

"While there is more to be done, the initial phase of this effort has certainly created a strong foundation for the bridge between the Bradley Center and the future. The investments by the local business community in the Bradley Center have set the stage for what we think can be a productive, private-public partnership. We hope others join in this effort to assure we can continue to maintain this first-class building."

While any new arena solution is likely years away, the six-year sponsorship agreement provides a convenient time horizon for figuring out what comes next, all while keeping up momentum to start a dialogue between the Bucks, the business community, the city and the state. Herb Kohl's announcement three weeks ago that he would personally contribute to a new arena was the critical first step needed to start the process, but the MMAC's role can't be underestimated either.

For the Bucks to make a compelling case for public funding, they'll have to first show that they're not simply looking for a handout. And while a big part of that is Kohl making a major contribution of his own to the cause, the economic case for a new arena won't hold much water unless local businesses also throw their financial support behind the idea. A central premise of any new arena will be the economic windfall it will bring Milwaukee businesses, but they'll have to do more than just passively support the concept.

That's why it's critical for proponents of a new building to build as broad a coalition as possible before they ask for public funding. Now isn't the right time for the ask--not with the Bucks struggling to re-establish themselves on the court and the economy still a major hot button. Gov. Scott Walker has been cool on the idea to date, and we should expect that to be the case so long as it's politically convenient. That leaves the onus on the Bucks and Milwaukee businesses to put their money where their mouths are and show that NBA basketball still makes economic sense in Milwaukee. The good news is that they're starting to do it:

Only a public-private partnership will get this done. The economic health of Milwaukee is critical to the economy of Wisconsin. And a vibrant downtown with a state-of-the-art arena that can keep the Bucks in town and attract major events can have a significant positive impact on the city's health.

The community has started the conversation on a new facility; Monday's announcement buys time for a full discussion and well-thought-out plan.