On Sunday Gery Woelfel was the first to report that the Milwaukee Bucks were not only zeroing in on new investors, but that Herb Kohl could be out as majority owner by as early as late April. It all sounded very promising for Bucks fans desperate for a fresh start following two decades of mostly forgettable basketball, though it also sounded very...sudden.
Don't get me wrong: NBA teams are a rather coveted asset, so it wasn't surprising to hear that the Bucks' availability was drawing major interest, nor was it surprising that potential investors with local ties would be among the possible suitors. Just the follow the guys with the bobbleheads. Still, could the Bucks really go from zero to new majority ownership in less than six months, as Woelfel suggested?
Two days and a slew of ownership-related news stories later, the answer appears to be a definite...maybe.
The Milwaukee Business Journal's Rich Kirchen writes that sources close to the sale process indicate that while no deal is imminent, the Bucks have indeed drawn significant investor interest both locally and nationally--and more importantly, a deal is likely to occur in the next six months:
The source said it is impossible to predict when the marketing and sales process will be complete. A transaction is likely by this summer, he said.
When Kohl announced in December 2013 that he was seeking new investors, he said it was for a minority stake in the Bucks. Most likely the new investors would have an option to take a controlling interest in the team when Kohl is ready to step down.
As for whether Kohl would ever consider selling a majority stake sooner rather than later, the source said: "Hypothetically who knows? If Prince Charming comes along."
However, there is no indication now that a majority buyer is in the wings.
Kirchen's reporting largely mirrors a similar story from Don Walker at the Journal-Sentinel, which cited a source "familiar with NBA transactions." Among the highlights from Walker's piece:
The source said it was difficult to predict when a deal can be completed. There has been some speculation that a deal to bring in new investors was imminent.
"Imminent is probably not the word I would use," the source said.
No one potential investor has been publicly identified, though the Journal Sentinel, citing a source knowledgeable about the Bucks' sale, reported that former Bucks star Junior Bridgeman had expressed interest in becoming a part of the Bucks' ownership group.
So basically: things are progressing (cool!) and something could happen in the coming months (great!), but no one is talking names or anything else too specific (OK...).
Not that this should stop us from thinking about what kind of deal would be best for the franchise and its goal of securing a new arena deal by the time the current lease with the aging BMO Harris Bradley Center expires in 2017. In an ideal world, the Bucks would find a benevolent billionaire capable of bankrolling a majority stake in the team while still having enough cash left over to help fund a major portion of a new arena. Flush with cash from the sale, Kohl could then step aside from operation of the team and focus on figuring out how to throw his fresh chunk of change at a new building ($100million? $200 million?), with the dream scenario requiring relatively little public funding to make it all work--because lord knows we don't want to bet on public money making this happen.
All we're missing at the moment is that tycoon on his white horse, though by now you'd guess that a number of thus-far anonymous billionaires have at least looked into the possibility of buying the Bucks. For now the wealthiest name directly linked to investing in the Bucks is Bridgeman, whose background as both a Buck great and highly successful entrepreneur would make him an ideal member of any investor group. He could also buy in as a minority investor with Kohl continuing to call the shots, which would then buy the former senator more time to figure out his final exit. Unfortunately that would also make it more likely that we see business as usual from the Bucks.
Other big names with smaller fortunes would also be welcome participants in whatever investor group(s) might be forming--come on down, Aaron Rodgers and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar!--but Bridgeman is an order of magnitude wealthier than either of them, and ultimately we're going to need to see some heavy hitters in order to not only sell the team, but also to fund an all-important replacement for the BC.