UPDATE (4/23/18): The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says the naming rights are “imminent,” and that they will go to a “local company with a national presence.”
Here are some facts: The new, $524 million Milwaukee Bucks arena is roughly 84% complete. The new, $524 million Milwaukee Bucks arena is expected to open in late summer or early fall. The new, $524 million Milwaukee Bucks arena is already set to host hot-shit musical acts like Justin Timberlake, Foo Fighters, Metallica, and the Eagles.
The new, $524 million Milwaukee Bucks arena still doesn’t have a name.
Yes, there’s currently an ungainly placeholder name—the Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center—but the lucrative naming rights for the new arena remain unannounced at best, and undetermined at worst. About the only thing anyone knows for sure is what names won’t be plastered on the side of the BelAir Cantina-esque sports and entertainment pleasure dome. Here’s a quick rundown of seven of them.
Back in 2015, mere hours before the Bucks were scheduled to announce the location of their new arena, a mysterious marker at 4th and Juneau popped up on Google Maps: the Harley-Davidson Arena. Wha? Did Google know something we didn’t? Was someone pulling a fast one? Why did the mysterious Harley arena disappear from Google Maps as quickly as it appeared? And why did Harley discontinue their sponsorship deal with the Milwaukee Brewers only a few days earlier? Turns out it was much ado about nothing: Three years later, Harley is the team’s very first uniform patch sponsor, but, per Milwaukee Bucks President Peter Feigin (and an October 2017 article in Forbes) Harley is “not a serious prospect for a naming rights deal.” (The dude over at the Squeaky Curd remains unconvinced.)
If you wade through enough articles about the whole naming rights thing, you get the sense that the Bucks really wanted Foxconn to foot the $7 million to $10 million per year (for 20 years!) bill, and that they came really close to making it happen. Alas, Foxconn Arena appears to be dead in the water. After continually crowing about basketball’s international appeal (nudge, nudge, international technology manufacturer setting up shop in southeastern Wisconsin), Feigin finally admitted to pitching to Foxconn. In July 2017, he said conversations with the company had been going on for “about three or four weeks.” In October 2017, however, he had this to say: “I think in some shape or form we’ll have a partnership with Foxconn,” but “at this point I wouldn’t think it’s probably going to be naming rights.” A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article the following month proclaimed the Taiwanese company to be “no longer in the running for the arena name.”
MillerCoors/Miller Brewing Company
Beer. It’s gotta be beer. And it’s gotta be Miller, right? The Brewers have Miller Park, after all; why not gift the Bucks with Miller Arena? Close, but no High Life. In September 2017, MillerCoors jumped onboard the Bucks arena train as a so-called “foundational sponsor.” In late February 2018, details of that sponsorship came to light: Miller will be the exclusive beer and malt beverage partner of the Bucks, and will operate a Miller Brewing Co. bar, a Leinenkugel’s bar, a Coors Light bar, and a Coors Light Silver Bullet Suite. Miller is currently in talks about what role it will play outside the arena—in the arena’s entertainment district, or so-called “live block”—but the “foundational sponsor” title all but precludes full naming rights.
Speaking of “foundational sponsors,” there are four more local companies that have signed on in that capacity (the Bucks say they want six to eight total). Don’t expect to see their names on the outside of the arena, either:
BMO Harris Bank
Medical College of Wisconsin
So who’s left?
Here’s where the local speculation seems to end. In December 2017, Feigin told SportsBusiness Journal, “We’ve got two very viable finalists and we are trying to get it down to a final understanding. Both are domestic with an international presence who value the international media of the NBA.” Feigin backed this up in February 2018, saying, “There are still two finalists. I think both of them will end up being partners. It’s just a question of in what capacity.”
It’s that “domestic with an international presence” bit that seems to spell doom for a Milwaukee-based arena name. Earlier this week, the Journal Sentinel had this to say:
A number of local companies—Johnson Controls, Miller Brewing Co., BMO Harris Bank, Froedtert Hospital and Harley-Davidson—have become partners but there have been no local takers for the naming rights.
Feigin shifted his focus to national or international companies that want to tap into the NBA’s growing international audience fueled by superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Back in November 2017—following the apparent failed Foxconn deal—the paper put it more bluntly:
In an interview, Feigin said the Bucks were now focusing on international companies in the technology and insurance sectors. None are local companies, he said, declining to provide additional details.
So there. Two companies are currently in the running for the arena’s naming rights, are neither of them are from Milwaukee. The end. Probably.
But why no local takers? Maybe it’s the hefty price tag. Sports marketing economist Andrew Zimbalist of Smith College told the Journal Sentinel that “twenty years at $7 to $10 million (a year) is simply too long and too rich” for a Milwaukee-sized market. At that price, the naming rights deal would be among the highest in the NBA. Feigin and the Bucks, meanwhile, maintain that the deal is worth every penny.
Back in November 2017, Feigin spoke to the Milwaukee Press Club. He concluded his speech with this:
“My promise to my owners is very simple: We will have a great partner and a great deal worth waiting a couple of months longer than we would have wanted it to.”
And wait we shall. (We’re owners of this thing, right?) In the meantime: so long, Northwestern Mutual Arena, and so long The Milwaukee Bucks Presented by American Family Insurance. Hello—eventually—who knows what.