Editor’s note: Regular Sports Nut columnist Howie Magner is on assignment (rumored to be practicing his slam dunks), so Milwaukee Magazine interns Logan Macomber and James Carlton will serve as temporary guest writers.
Photo by Anna Maund
It’s easy to find flaws in an NBA arena when the home team isn’t winning championships. And when the arena feels vacant, as the BMO Harris Bradley Center can, it’s even easier.
With the undersized Bradley Center reaching 25 years of age, Bucks owner Herb Kohl has talked of fronting a significant portion of the cost of building a new stadium – a step that a Journal Sentinel article from last November says is necessary for the Bucks to stay in Milwaukee. “The building is too small and too outdated to support an NBA franchise beyond 2017,” the article says.
The Bradley Center has only about 200 premium seats, compared to 2,000-plus in newer facilities around the league, and average attendance so far this season is a mere 14,586 – fourth-worst in the NBA. Despite a recent $3 million renovation, the Bradley Center lacks moneymakers that are becoming common in self-sustaining facilities, like a fine dining experience or an attached movie theater or shopping mall. And according to that same Journal Sentinel article, the building itself is only two-thirds the size the NBA would like it to be.
But as someone who went to college in Boston and recently moved to Milwaukee from Vermont, I see no shortage of positives to being a Bucks fan in Milwaukee right now.
And the biggest positive is price.
On Feb. 5, 2009, I paid $120 for a seat in the nosebleed section of Boston’s TD Garden to see the Lakers play the Celtics.
On Dec. 1, 2012, I paid that same amount for two tickets to see the Celtics play the Bucks at the Bradley Center. This time, I sat 10 rows behind the Bucks’ bench. It was like I’d traded in my 10-inch black-and-white for a 60-inch HD flat-screen. In Boston, that same upgrade would cost closer to the price of an actual 60-inch HD TV, and that’s if you can find tickets at face value, which is unlikely.
So without discounting the value of an elite rivalry atmosphere like the one I experienced at TD Garden, let’s take a look at what else $120 or so can buy you at the Bradley Center more than four years later.
1. A midcourt upper-level ticket to see the Heat on March 15 and the Lakers on March 28, plus three beers. Total Price: $120.70
2. A lower-level ticket to see the Trail Blazers on March 19, the Timberwolves on April 3 and the Nuggets on April 15. Total Price: $130.80
3. Two midcourt upper-level seats to see the Thunder on March 30, two beer vouchers, two pilsner glasses and more. Total price: $103 (Coors Light Guys’ Night Out promotion)
4. Two midcourt lower-level seats to see the Hawks on March 24, two brats, two sodas and more. Total Price: $120.50 (Family Night Package, minimum four tickets)
5. Eight upper-level seats to see the Mavericks on March 12. Total Price: $122.
6. An upper-level ticket to eight of the Bucks’ 11 remaining home games, excluding the Heat, Lakers and Thunder. Total Price: $124.
Individual tickets at the Bradley Center start at $10 and can be even cheaper with single-game specials or from secondary ticket vendors like StubHub, especially if you buy on game day.
And if cheap tickets alone aren’t enough to wow Milwaukeeans, then cheap beer (by NBA standards) should sweeten the deal. According to a February 2013 Business Insider article, the Bradley Center is tied for seventh-cheapest beer arena in the NBA at $6.50 a pop, below the league average of $7.08. A beer at TD Garden costs $8 and a beer at Madison Square Garden costs $9.
What the Bradley Center lacks in atmosphere – despite the valiant effort of rowdy, Ersan Ilyasova-sponsored fan section Sector 7 – it makes up for in value.
So although a new arena may be necessary for the Bucks to have a future in Milwaukee, there are quite a few reasons to take advantage of low prices now. They may not last.
In March 2011, with a three-year Madison Square Garden renovation project underway, the New York Knicks announced a 49 percent hike in season ticket prices for the 2011-2012 season.
Growing up in Vermont, 200 miles away from the closest NBA team, I was baffled by the empty seats I saw on television. I wished I lived in one of those sports cities where you could watch a game for a crisp 10-spot, if only to see the visiting team.
And this year, the Bucks aren’t too shabby. On Tuesday they won an overtime thriller against Toronto, and they’re currently a playoff team. And like the low Bradley Center prices, there’s no guarantee that will last, either.
Five years down the line, after the Bucks’ Bradley Center lease has expired and the team has moved to a new stadium, or, God forbid, a new city, Milwaukeeans just might be longing for the good ol’ days, when the Bucks made the playoffs and you could see them live without going thirsty. And without breaking the bank.