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Volume 20 No. 42


The Milwaukee Bucks are designing their new arena as an esports competition venue as well as an entertainment showcase to attract patrons from Chicago’s northern suburbs.

Bucks President Peter Feigin laid out a vision beyond NBA basketball for the $524 million arena that includes accommodating the team’s NBA 2K esports franchise, which is to make its debut in 2018. The arena, now halfway through construction, opens in fall 2018.

Construction continues on the Milwaukee Bucks' arena, scheduled to open next year .
The architectural team of Populous, Eppstein Uhen and HNTB have planned a building focused on flexibility — where the event floor can be split into quadrants for what Feigin said could be up to four yearly esports competitions. Concourses could be used for additional competitions and demonstrations.

“This arena will be a destination for gamers,” he said. “A lot of it [focuses] on the technology and power side, knowing that we’re going to be an interesting production company internally when we do esporting broadcasting and games and competitions. [The issue is] how do you actually prepare for that on the tech side, on the data side and on the power side? We’ve thought about all of that.”

For Populous, it’s about designing an arena with elasticity to fit one more special event in the mix, said Brad Clark, senior principal on the project.

The arena can be scaled to an intimate 2,500 for esports, but the activity is growing so fast that it may not be long before NBA arenas reach full capacity with gaming crowds, Clark believes.

“We’re having internal explorations on what esports means for us [as an architect] with more team owners getting involved in owning these properties,” Clark said. It’s been a focus especially for Brian Mirakian, a principal and director of Populous Activate, the firm’s branding group.

In Milwaukee, the esports component could also be a key piece of the entertainment district next door to the new arena, a separate project controlled by the Bucks. In tandem with consultant Frank Supovitz, the former NFL senior vice president of events who is mapping out the district’s infrastructure, the Bucks are exploring the idea of building an esports lounge on the plaza fronting the district for smaller gaming competition. It’s in the conceptual stage and no deals have been signed, Feigin said.

“Think of your next generation sports bar,” he said. “We haven’t decided how we’re going to execute it, but we do think there’s an unbelievable opportunity, much like a music festival, to do an outside stage and an inside stage [for esports]. I think there would be some seats for viewing [the competitions] but on a smaller scale.”

Apart from esports, the Bucks just launched an aggressive campaign to market the new arena’s concerts to the outskirts of Chicago, the country’s third-largest market, which sits 90 miles south of Milwaukee.

North Shore suburbs such as Lake Forest and Winnetka are twice as far from the Milwaukee arena site as from United Center, which has capacity of about 20,000 for concerts. But the Bucks’ research shows that, depending on the time of day, the drive can take half as long.

In addition, five North Shore communities, including Lake Forest, just 60 miles south of Milwaukee, are in the top 5 percent of U.S. household income, according to the Bucks’ data.

Raj Saha, the new arena’s general manager, will book the building. Saja spent four years running the O2 in London, the world’s busiest concert venue in Pollstar’s rankings, before the Bucks hired him last fall.

Don Muret
The Saskatchewan Roughriders’ new stadium stands out for its financial model as well as for its European feel.

Mosaic Stadium, a $278 million (Canadian) project, includes the team’s $25 million investment toward construction. As part of its agreement with the province and the city of Regina, the Roughriders were required to pay their portion of funding well in advance of stadium completion.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders’ Mosaic Stadium has a roof canopy .

In turn, the team went to market with a “cash upfront” proposition for naming rights and founding partners, said Steve Mazurak, the Roughriders’ vice president of sales and partnerships, who played in the CFL for eight years and served as executive director of the CFL Players Association from 1981 to ’85. All told, the Roughriders signed 11 deals totaling more than $76 million, and they secured about 20 percent in cash, or roughly $15 million, two to three years before the stadium officially opened July 1, Mazurak said.

The model is unusual in sports, where sponsorship dollars typically start flowing after a facility opens, industry experts say, but there have been other cases. Ford Motor Co. pitched in upfront to help pay for Ford Field, home to the Ford family’s Detroit Lions, said Bill Rhoda, president of Legends Global Planning and a principal at CSL International, the Lions’ financial consultant.

In Saskatchewan, where Legends consulted with the Roughriders on the sales side, the 11 sponsors, including Molson Coors, SaskTel, AGT Foods and Mosaic, the fertilizer company that had its name on the team’s old stadium, recognized the new building as a community asset. Spreading that message during presentations made it more conducive for the team to ask for money upfront, Mazarek said.

Mosaic Stadium, which cost $215 million to build in today’s U.S. dollars, sits on the northwest edge of Regina, about a 20-minute walk from the city’s downtown district, Mazerak said. Gregg Sauter, the Roughriders’ vice president of business development and marketing, grew up near Green Bay and says the site is similar to the residential neighborhoods surrounding the Packers’ Lambeau Field.

The CFL stadium’s distinct feature is its European-style roof canopy, which covers half of the building’s 33,400 seats and protects fans from the harsh prairie winds of west-central Canada. Two corners of the roof structure were left open to accommodate structural columns should the Roughriders, the city and province decide someday to install a fixed roof, said Mark Williams, a principal with HKS, the stadium’s designer. The decision to go with a canopy saved money on construction costs and heating expenses, team officials said.

The stadium’s 38 suites and 78 loge boxes are sold out except for some single-game inventory, league commitments and future sponsor opportunities, Sauter said. The Roughriders sold 1,200 club seats as season tickets, leaving 200 remaining to sell for single games.

In addition, “Pil Country,” a 1,200-space standing-room section across five levels branded for MolsonCoors’ Old Style Pilsner, is a smaller version of the end zone decks at AT&T Stadium and U.S. Bank Stadium, two HKS projects, Williams said. Pil Country tickets start at $25 a game.

The Harvard Broadcasting Studio 620 Lounge.
The Harvard Broadcasting Studio 620 Lounge is open to all ticket holders. It’s on the west side at the 55-yard-line (don’t forget, this is Canadian football) off the main concourse. It can fit 500 fans, and the wall design incorporates wooden benches removed from the old stadium.

The open concourse keeps fans connected to the game, unlike older CFL stadiums such as the one built 80 years ago in Regina that’s been torn down for a new mixed-use development.

The new stadium’s Samsung video board, stretching 40 yards wide, is the CFL’s biggest screen.

“We think this new stadium is going to change the mentality and the way people experience the CFL,” Williams said.

Don Muret can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @breakground.

The Milwaukee Bucks are in talks with potential naming-rights partners for their future arena, discussing a 20-year deal valued at more than $7 million annually, Bucks President Peter Feigin said.

A deal to rebrand the arena, called the Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center, could be ready by Labor Day, he said.

The total package could include assets tied to the entertainment district next door, a portion of which the Bucks expect to open at the same time the arena opens in fall 2018.

The Bucks are handling negotiations in-house. Matt Pazaras, senior vice president of business development and strategy, is leading the effort.

A deal at $7 million a year would put the arena behind only San Francisco’s Chase Center, scheduled to open for the 2019-20 season, and Philips Arena in Atlanta among major league arenas where the NBA team is the anchor.

“We’re in the sixth or seventh inning with what we consider two to three finalists in the discussion,” Feigin said. “Our expectation is to get this done by the end of the summer.”

The Bucks have signed two founding partners, Johnson Controls and Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin. The latter, a health care group, has naming rights to the team’s $30 million practice facility, which will open Aug. 3 across the street from the arena. Both founding partner deals are for $10 million and valued at more than $2 million annually. The Bucks expect to announce two more founding partners this month and another two by the end of August. They could sign up to eight founding partners, Feigin said.

As of last week, the Bucks had five of an available 34 suites remaining to sell, along with five of 33 loft suites, the team’s theater box product with four to eight seats. The team has scheduled 2,700 appointments at its preview center, situated in an old Schlitz beer warehouse in downtown Milwaukee.

Suites cost $225,000 to $400,000 a year. The loft suites run $80,000 to $220,000 annually. Terms for both products are seven, 10 and 12 years.

The new arena’s 1,500 club seats in the lower bowl range from $215 to $1,500 a person, and 80 percent have been sold, team officials said. All told, the average ticket price for all lower-bowl seats is $118 in the new arena compared with $101 at BMO Harris Bradley Center, a 17 percent increase.

The design of the seating bowl basically flip-flops the setup at BMO Harris Bradley Center, with more than 10,000 seats in the lower bowl and 6,000-plus seats in the upper deck. Bradley Center has one of the NBA’s biggest upper decks with 12,000 seats.

“It’s the simple math of having better seats … and a better experience for the fan,” Feigin said. “Bradley Center is very spread out and a high building, and that’s a tough scenario when you’re trying to scale the house for a game or a concert.”

The Bucks expect to announce their food provider later this month. Sources say the team has selected Levy, their current concessionaire, but Feigin said he could not confirm the information because a deal has not been signed. It will be a joint venture between the team and the vendor, he said.

Food consultant John Sergi worked with the Bucks on the deal.