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Milwaukee Bucks get aggressive to avoid second-year letdown at Fiserv Forum

  • Moves include series of new seating options and multi-year ticket options
  • Activity attempts to move Milwaukee beyond the confines of its small, geographically sandwiched market
  • Building will host the 2020 Democratic National Convention

The Milwaukee Bucks is fervently trying to avoid a revenue letdown for the second season of Fiserv Forum, its new downtown arena in the Wisconsin city, with an extensive series of seating additions, ticketing enhancements, and event developments.

The National Basketball Association team is seeking to fight off a sophomore slump in the new building with the development of several new premium seating areas, an installation of more rail access viewing areas, a push for more multi-year ticket sales, and a sharp increase in non-basketball events.

The moves are also a key part of the Bucks’ ongoing attempt to outstrip the confines of the Milwaukee market size, which is the fourth-smallest media market in the NBA.

“There’s such an incremental gain [in revenue] from leveraging a new building and all the excitement. So usually what you look toward in Year 2 is a bit of a dip in growth,” says Peter Feigin, president of the Bucks. “For us, we really looked out toward a 24-month plan to try to circumvent that as much as we could.” 

Beyond the sweep of facility- and sales-based efforts, the Bucks are also leaning more into the non-basketball programming of both Fiserv Forum itself and the Deer District, the 30-acre outdoor plaza surrounding the building for which the team is now seeking a corporate naming-rights sponsor.

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During the arena’s first year of operation, there have been 28 concerts, a sizable development for the Milwaukee market is often skipped over by major touring artists as they travel between Chicago and Minneapolis. Major artists performing thus far at Fiserv Forum include the Killers, Justin Timberlake, Ariana Grande and Metallica, with upcoming events including John Mayer, Chance the Rapper and the Jonas Brothers. 

Sixty-one events in total outside of the Bucks and Marquette University basketball, the other major sports tenant at Fiserv Forum, have been held, a number the team plans to grow beyond 100 in the upcoming year. And the Deer District, in addition to serving as a key locale for fan gatherings before and during Bucks games, has been a regular site for community events such as farmer’s markets, yoga and Zumba classes, holiday festivals, nighttime movies, and beer festivals.

“We had the vision from the beginning that was a market beyond ripe for activation. We just had to create attractive content,” said Feigin, who envisioned the club as a content company from the origination of Fiserv Forum. “In a very short period of time, Fiserv Forum has become one of the top arenas in North America for ticket sales.”

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Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, right, was the 2019 NBA Most Valuable Player, a key catalyst in the team’s competitive rebirth, and has been a prominent attendance draw at the Bucks’ new arena (Getty Images)

Leveraging, but not depending on the team

The August 2018 opening of Fiserv Forum, a $524m building relying roughly half on public funds, timed up with an acceleration in the multi-year rebuilding of the Bucks themselves. After ending the 2013-14 season as the worst team in the NBA, winning just 15 of 82 games, the Bucks in the ensuing half-decade steadily grew into a playoff team. 

A key focal point in that rebuild was Giannis Antetokounmpo, a 6’11 power forward nicknamed “the Greek Freak” due to a rare combination of size, wingspan, quickness, and ball-handing ability. Antetokounmpo arrived a rookie during that awful 2013-14 season, but ultimately became one of the league’s most dynamic personalities, a perennial All-Star, and during this past season, the NBA’s Most Valuable Player.

The Bucks during the debut year of Fiserv Arena won a league-best 60 games, the team’s highest total since 1981, and advanced to the NBA Eastern Conference Finals before succumbing to eventual league champion Toronto. 

The success by Antetokounmpo individually and the team collectively allowed the Bucks to post 37 regular season sellouts during the inaugural season at Fiserv Forum, and an average attendance percentage of 101.5 percent of listed capacity when also including standing-room tickets, a figure that was second best in the NBA last season. The team is again the among the favorites vying for the 2019-2020 NBA title.

Read this: ‘Footfall is our friend’ | Fiserv Forum allows Bucks to transition to ‘real estate and content company’

But Feigin says the club is still seeking to walk a fine line between capitalizing upon the current run of on-court success and not completely relying on it financially. The multi-year sales push around its tickets, both for premium and non-premium seating, feeds directly into that.

“What we wanted to do is use the team performance as a cherry on top, an accelerant on top of an an incredible foundation,” Feigin says.

The Deer District outside of Fiserv Forum has been a key gathering spot before and during Milwaukee Bucks games, and also the site of a wide variety of local community events (Milwaukee Bucks)

New areas, new events

The offseason construction this summer at Fiserv Forum is certainly a marked departure from last year’s large-scale efforts to finish the building itself. But around the building, several smaller efforts are underway to further enhance the venue. 

Among the projects: the creation of a new 300-seat section in the building’s upper level, a new 15-seat luxury suite that includes club seating for all arena events, the creation of a new loge table section with eight all-inclusive tables priced between $20,000 and $38,000 per season, the addition of more than two dozen floor seats, and the new standing rail access areas. 

“We spent the first six months in our new home really exploring opportunistic square feet, watching the critical paths of people, and pivoting from there,” Feigin said. “We used that as an opportunity to see where we could monetize in places that we hadn’t thought of originally.”

The Bucks are also actively marketing to new and existing season-ticket holders two- and three-year packages, something not widely done in the industry for non-premium tickets. Roughly 1,300 of the team’s current season-ticket base of 10,500 full-season equivalents have accepted the multi-year offers, which carry a 5 percent discount from single-year pricing.

In addition to the new arena projects, the Bucks are also widening their view toward additional premier non-basketball events. The building is already set to play host to first- and second-round games in the 2022 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, a schedule stop in the Big 3, and it has bid on hosting a NCAA Frozen Four tournament in college ice hockey. Fiserv Forum’s predecessor building, the BMO Harris Bradley Center, was the site of three prior Frozen Four events.

Perhaps most dramatically, Fiserv Forum will also be the site for the 2020 Democratic National Convention next summer, a key event in next year’s US presidential election cycle.

“We’re looking for the biggest problem you could possibly have, which is winning the NBA title in June and having to flip over the building right away to the Democratic National Convention in July,” Feigin says. “And that event is just another huge feather in our cap, a phenomenal feat for a market our size.”

Read this; Q&A | Bucks president Peter Feigin on the team’s 25-year stadium naming deal with Fiserv

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