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OPINION - No new arena

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  I spent Saturday afternoon at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. While I was there for a basketball game, I was sizing up the place with an eye toward the Buck’s long-standing complaint. The team says it needs a new arena if it is to remain in Milwaukee as a viable NBA franchise.

Sorry, Bucks. That’s not justified. The Bradley Center is about average – no better, no worse – than a typical pro-sports basketball / hockey arena.

I have some experience in this area. The arena that I know best is the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut. My radio station was literally down the street, and I saw the arena built from the ground up. At 8,000 seats, it’s much smaller than the Bradley Center, and it hosts only college basketball and minor league hockey.  But, like most new arenas, the value is in the luxury suites. Even the smaller arena in Bridgeport has 30 private boxes – about the same as the Bradley Center. I’m also familiar with Madison Square Garden and the Brendan Byrne Arena in New Jersey. The Garden has been renovated at least four times since my youth – each to take out more seats so more luxury suites could go in. The Meadowlands also built its arena with an emphasis on premium seating at the expense of some very distant views from the regular seats in the upper deck.

So how does the Bradley Center stack up? First, the bad: The arena doesn’t have enough luxury suites – it has a ring of ‘em at the top of the lower seating bowl – but most arenas would have an entire second level of suites at the bottom of the upper deck. The pitch of the arena (that is, the slope from one row of seats to the next) is very steep. And the interior of the place, with slate grey walls and the same grey seat-backs, isn’t very appealing. Lastly, the parking situation stinks.

What’s good? Because the arena is built to fit into one city block, you’re very close to the action. The sight lines are good. The concourses are spacious and the arena’s interior is in good condition.

Here’s why I come down against a new arena: the problems with the Bradley Center are manageable, and, if they’re critical to the Buck’s success they can put up the money and make it happen. The team could put in more suites. The team can change the interior color. There's no justification to tear the place down and have the taxpayers build it back up.

There’s no cure for the steepness of the place – but a new arena on the same site would have the same problem or have many fewer seats. And a new arena wouldn’t solve the parking problem, where fans fork over $20 to leave their cars in the ramp across the street.

The cure for the Buck’s problems is to put a better team on the court. Only when there’s increased demand for tickets can we assess whether the arena is an asset or an albatross to the franchise.

Chris Conley
2.24.2014

PS – Although I don’t support a new arena for the team, I’d like to note that the Bucks were excellent hosts for the DC Everest vs. Rhinelander basketball game on Saturday. They made all of the teams feel welcome, allowed plenty of times for on-court pictures, and gave high school gymnasium players a big-time arena experience.

The Bucks have hosted afternoon of high school games once a year for the last 18 seasons. It’s an excellent community outreach program. 



Image: The Bradley Center in Milwaukee, by Chris Conley