A look at the big bucks behind what we call the places where so many memories are made

Whoa! We didn’t see that one coming. Or that one, either.

Two big naming-rights curveballs whizzed across Milwaukee’s plate in the past year. First it was Fiserv Forum. We figured the new Bucks arena would be named after some company, but we didn’t expect it would get the same name as a financial technology conference for clients of what had been the area’s least visible Fortune 500 member.

And then it was the Brewers stadium that we’ve never known as anything but Miller Park. The ballpark seems more a place to hoist a beer than to renew your insurance policy.

But maybe we shouldn’t have been too surprised.

Remember the Midwest Express Center? Or the U.S. Cellular Arena? Milwaukee was a pioneer on the naming rights frontier, the first in the nation to sell the name of its convention center. That 1998 deal, however, wasn’t a nonstop trip for the venue’s airline sponsors, as corporate turbulence led to three name changes before the agreement expired and the facility was renamed yet again, simply as the Wisconsin Center.

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These deals mean big bucks for the Bucks, Brewers and others, even if figures are often secret. Brookfield-based Fiserv is reportedly paying $150 million for its 25-year arena naming rights, and experts told VenuesNow magazine that American Family Insurance’s deal with the Brewers, beginning in 2021, probably will pay $60 million over 15 years – well above the reported $41.2 million MillerCoors poured out over 20 years. When it was announced in 1996, the Miller Park naming-rights deal was the biggest ever.

What’s in it for sponsors? It’s not just national TV exposure to consumers, but also the chance to pour their beer for thirsty fans, do other deals with a team or dazzle clients and prospective employees with events at an iconic venue, says Bill Miller, associate professor of sport management at UW-Parkside.

American Family Insurance’s naming rights triple play – on the Brewers ballpark, main Summerfest stage and July 3 lakefront fireworks – comes as the company plans to add a Milwaukee technology center.

Like sports teams, naming sponsors have hot and cold streaks.

At various points, we saw MillerCoors brand names on Milwaukee’s baseball stadium, the former Auditorium and a major Summerfest stage; BMO Harris Bank on the Bradley Center and another big Summerfest stage; and now American Family on the ballpark, main Summerfest stage and July 3 lakefront fireworks – just as the Madison-based company plans to add a Milwaukee technology center.

UW-Parkside’s Miller expects financial institutions and beverage companies will remain hot.

One name that won’t change: Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. The Marcus Corp. Foundation donated an undisclosed sum to win naming rights for the former Performing Arts Center in perpetuity, starting in 1996, according to Marcus Center President Paul Mathews.

Meanwhile, before we hear future conventions will be held at the Guaranteed Rate Center (don’t laugh – nobody in Chicago thought that fate would befall the White Sox stadium, either), here’s a look at past and current deals for Milwaukee’s biggest publicly owned sports, entertainment and convention venues.


Some Famous Local Names

Fiserv Forum. Photo courtesy of Nick Monroe/Milwaukee Bucks.

FISERV FORUM

2018-43 — $6 million per year; $150 million (reported)

Note: The Bucks said they wanted $7 million to $12 million a year, but experts said $3 million to $4 million was more realistic.

 


AMERICAN FAMILY INSURANCE/BREWERS STADIUM

2021-35 — $4 million per year; $60 million (estimated)

Miller Park. Getty Images.

Currently: Miller Park
2001-20 — $2 million per year; $41.2 million (reported)

Notes: The original Miller Park deal included $1.2 million up front. The ballpark’s exact new name remained unannounced at press time.


BMO HARRIS BRADLEY CENTER

2012-18 — $1 million per year; $6 million (estimated)

Bradley Center. Getty Images.

Previously: Bradley Center
1988-2012 — $93 million

Note: Unlike other naming-rights deals, philanthropist Jane Bradley Pettit donated the full construction cost in honor of her father, industrialist Harry Lynde Bradley.


WISCONSIN CENTER

(no current deal)

Wisconsin Center. Photo courtesy of Visit Milwaukee.

Previously: Delta Center, 2012-13; Frontier Airlines Center, 2010-12; Midwest Airlines Center, 2003-10; Midwest Express Center, 1998-2002
— $500,000-$750,000 per year; $9.25 million

Notes: Delta Airlines took over the last year of a 15-year naming rights agreement first reached by Midwest Express Airlines, which later became Midwest Airlines and then merged into Frontier Airlines. The original deal included $500,000 upfront and $750,000 in airline tickets.


UWM PANTHER ARENA

UWM Panther Arena

2014-24 — $300,000-$375,000 per year; $3.43 million

Previously: U.S. Cellular Arena
2007-14 — $310,000-$340,000 per year; $2.45 million
2000-07 — $2 million total

Notes: The 2007-14 deal included $175,000 in cellphone service and equipment. Further details on the 2000-07 deal were not available. Formerly known as Milwaukee Arena and MECCA Arena.


MILLER HIGH LIFE THEATRE

Miller High Life Theatre

2016-20 — $350,000-$390,000 per year; $1.85 million

Note: Previously known as Milwaukee Theatre, Milwaukee Auditorium and MECCA Auditorium.

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SOURCES: WISCONSIN CENTER DISTRICT, SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNAL, VENUESNOW MAGAZINE, MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL

“Game of the Name” appears in the July 2019 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning July 1, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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