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Volume 20 No. 42
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Esports plays in Bucks’ arena design

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.