Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Bucks Money: The New Arena and the Fox Sports Wisconsin Deal

Bucks Forest has long had an interest in the business side of the Milwaukee Bucks, and there have been two Bucks business topics have been making news recently: the New Arena and the extension of the Bucks' local TV deal with Fox Sports Wisconsin.

The New Arena - Capacity, Cost, and Naming Rights

The soon-to-be-corporately-named new Bucks arena in downtown Milwaukee is almost ready to debut.  The first scheduled event is a Kevin Hart "in the round" comedy show on September 13, but rumors persist that the Bucks will schedule an act with a more local flavor for early September.

Season ticket holders were given brief "hard hat tours" last weekend, which included sampling parts of the Lower level concourse and the "party club" space that sits at the west end of the Club level.  Bucks Forest was part of those tours (as a season ticket holder; not as a media outlet), and in this blog's opinion the arena looked fantastic.

A secondary hobby of Bucks Forest is being a connoisseur of sports stadiums.  As such, this blog felt compelled to A) compare the new Bucks arena with other NBA & NHL arenas, and B) analyze the overall design of the building.

On "A", the new Bucks arena appears to instantly enter the top tier of modern arenas.  (With "modern arenas" being defined as arenas that were conceived with luxury boxes splitting the seating bowl horizontally.)  

Why?  The new arena has plenty of concourse space.  Luxury boxes are kept to a minimum (only 34 traditional suites in this building), thus keeping the upper level closer to the action.  The main entrance is massive, and includes a large gathering space.  The lower bowl has the bulk of the seats.  Seating capacity is team-appropriate.  (More on that later.)  

Bucks Forest has sampled some impressive arenas, but the new Bucks arena has advantages over all of them.  Staples Center is located in the home city of this blog, Los Angeles, and it is excellent.  But it has a huge amount of space dedicated to suites (at least 50% more than the new Bucks arena.)  SAP Center in San Jose matches the intimate feel of the new Bucks' arena, but a lot of its closest upper level seats are obstructed by entrance railings, as was the case at the Bradley Center.  Air Canada Centre (soon to be known as Scotiabank Arena) in Toronto manages to cram a full 20,000 people into a tight space in a way that no other arena does, but its seating capacity would be too large for the Bucks' current fanbase.

T-Mobile Arena, the Las Vegas home of UFC and the NHL's Golden Knights, is the arena that most closely compares to the new Bucks arena, which leads into part "B", the overall design of the building.

The new Bucks arena and T-Mobile Arena were designed by the same company, Populous, and the similarities are quite noticeable.  Both arenas have a grand entrance.  Both arenas are built above ground (meaning that stairs or an escalator must be taken in order to get to the lower level concourse. Both arenas have large lower seating bowls.  (Though the new Bucks arena's appears to be a higher and narrower.)  Both arenas have a single ring of luxury boxes.  Both arenas have floor-level clubs, accessible only with an extremely high-priced ticket.  Both arenas have open concourses.  Both arenas have the upper concourse above the upper seating bowl, which eliminates the aforementioned entrance railings that used to cause obstructed views at the Bradley Center.

In essence, the new Bucks arena feels like the NBA/Milwaukee equivalent of T-Mobile Arena's NHL/Vegas feel.  NBA seating bowls are a little tighter and Vegas tends to draw a larger number of people willing to spend big bucks for "club" access, but otherwise the two buildings feel the same.  In the eyes of Bucks Forest, that's a good thing.

Beyond comparing and analyzing the new Bucks arena, there are a few other issues to touch upon.

The cost of the new Bucks arena has been reported as $524 million and the seating capacity has been reported as 17,500.  Both of those numbers are deceptive.

The "$524 million" includes many items that are not exactly arena-related.  It is no secret that $38 million of that $524 million is for the new parking structure on 5th Street, between McKinley & Juneau.  That's not the only non-arena expense for the new Bucks arena.  There's also the design of the Bucks' new practice facility (it should be pointed out that the team paid for construction), "professional services" (which almost certainly include the Bucks paying themselves for shepherding the arena project), and the Bucks' corporate offices.  

An under-reported aspect of the new Bucks arena is that the team ensured that the building would have space for the corporate offices of the team.  That's not scandalous in and of itself, but when the costs of non-essential items are removed from the overall "$524 million", the price of the arena likely ends up right around $350 million.  Lo and behold, $350 million is the amount that Wisconsin taxpayers and Herb Kohl contributed towards the project.

What all of this essentially means is that Wisconsin taxpayers & Herb Kohl built the Bucks an arena, and the Bucks' "$174 million contribution" was mostly for things that really only benefit the Bucks: designing the practice facility, "professional services", building the team's corporate office space, etc.

Building an arena for a private company (and handing over potentially lucrative leasing rights in exchange for bupkis) is not necessarily high on the list of Things A City Should Do, but at least the team stayed in town.  The point of all of this is simply to say that the city, county, and state could have (and maybe should have) just built a $350 million arena themselves, with or without the Bucks. The government could've offered the Bucks a chance to stay in Milwaukee, likely with a more taxpayer-friendly lease on the new arena.

The Local TV Deal - Is This a Win for the Bucks?

The most recent financial news related to the Bucks was the announcement of an extension of the Bucks' local TV deal with Fox Sports Wisconsin.  

Sports Business Journal reported the numbers at approximately $200 million over seven years, with next year's number at $26 million (up from $20 million this past season).

In the eyes of Bucks Forest, a few things stood out about this deal:

One, it's only a seven year deal.  While some local TV deals have been short term -- most notably the Clippers' recent acceptance of a two-year deal at half the price they were hoping for -- many have been for a decade or more.

Short term local TV deals often are a sign of a team's frustration with a deal (like in the Clippers' case).  From this blog's perspective, it appears that the Bucks wanted a heck of a lot more than $26 million next season, but had to settle based on market conditions.  The fact that Bucks co-owner Wes Edens told the media that the team was looking into creating its own network that would compete with Fox Sports Wisconsin; but ultimately didn't, is a major reason why this blog thinks that the Bucks were hoping for more money over more years.

A second point about this deal is that $26 million may not actually be $26 million.  The Bucks may be paying for production.

Bucks Forest suspects that the Bucks are on the hook for production costs for a few reasons.  One reason is that Fox has a history of allowing sports organizations to tout high dollar TV deals, while making the sports org pay for production.  That happened with Fox Sports and UFC, where Fox retained significant control over broadcasts, but UFC was on the hook for paying talent (and, presumably, other production personnel).  This blog has never seen Tully Hughes's paycheck, but we have a sneaking suspicion that it's signed by the Bucks, not Fox Sports Wisconsin.

Third in the line of items about the Bucks' local TV deal is that it really illustrates the inherent unfairness of the NBA's "territorial rights" model.  

The Bucks get money from Fox Sports Wisconsin.  Fox Sports Wisconsin broadcasts Bucks games in Wisconsin, only.  The Bucks cannot have a local broadcast in the Chicago area or eastern Minnesota or northern Iowa.  They are limited to their Wisconsin territory, which at the moment means Fox Sports Wisconsin's reach of 1.5 million homes.

Due to this territorial limitation, it is dang near impossible for the Bucks to ever have the local reach of even mid-level NBA teams.  Obviously the Lakers' and Knicks' of the world have greater local reach than the Bucks, but even teams like the Suns, Hornets, and Hawks have a far, far larger local domain to broadcast in.

What can the Bucks possibly do, given their territorial restrictions?  Get more Wisconsinites to subscribe to cable or satellite service (when the number of FS Wisconsin subs has dropped from 1.7 million to 1.5 million over the last few years)?  

The final thing that stood out to Bucks Forest about the TV deal is the Bucks' relationship with the Brewers.

Fox Sports Wisconsin only gets so much revenue from its 1.5 million subscribers, and the TV ads it sells.  The subscriber base is going to expand only if more people sign up for cable or satellite TV, and those numbers have been trending down.  TV ad rates will increase when the Bucks and Brewers do well, but that's not where most of the money comes from.  Most of FS Wisconsin's revenue is from subscriber fees.

In essence, there's this pot of money that is mostly static, and both the Bucks and Brewers are competing for it.  It's not like with ticket or merchandise sales, where an inspiring team can cause local fans to bust their budget and support both teams.  The Bucks will get part of the FS Wisconsin pot, the Brewers will get part, and the only thing that will change is how large a percentage goes to each side.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

'Due Diligence' Is for Losers

The Bucks are 37-33 and eighth in the East.  Expected in some circles; a shocking disappointment within the organization.

The natural reaction is to shuffle the roster or fire the coach.  Been there, done that.  It hasn't worked. Milwaukee is 33-28 since acquiring Eric Bledsoe.  14-11 after firing Jason Kidd.  10-10 since Jabari Parker returned.  "You are what your record says," the old saying goes.  What does the Bucks' record say?

What to do?  Ultimately, there are two paths.  Two belief systems, as it were.

Belief System #1: The Patriot Way

Focus.  On.  Today.

Many people have many definitions of the New England Patriots' method of operation; that is mine.  Identify what is in front of you and what you can control.  Devise a viable strategy and a plan.  Execute.

Example: Your roster is your roster.  Do the best you can with it.  Ignore players on other teams who might or might not fit your roster.  Scan the waiver wire, the draft, the free agency market with neither hope nor cynicism.  The players available are the players available.  OG Anunoby is no longer available to be drafted ahead of DJ Wilson.  Jabari Parker will never be a free agent.

Belief System #2: Trust the Process

Chase.  Perfection.

Sam Hinkie did it in Philadephia.  Daryl Morey does it in Houston.  Danny Ainge is Boston's man.

'Trust the Process' means that everything is an asset or a liability; yours, your competitors', and third parties'.

Example: Joe Prunty is not the Bucks' Head Coach.  He is the Bucks' Head Coach Right Now.  And he is worth X.  Most basketball coaches are worth less than X; some may be worth more.  When the time comes, the Bucks will be prepared to Maximize The Value of the Head Coaching Position.  If X is the Max Value, then Prunty stays.  If Other Coach > X, then Prunty goes.

Trust the Process people do not believe in winning the day.  They aim to Win The Lifetime.  They believe that preparing for every conceivable eventuality leads to better outcomes whenever eventualities become realities.

Daryl Morey knew that secondary Alpha Dogs often force their way out.  He knew that talent-rich teams can't pay everyone, and thus covet draft picks and young players.  He was prepared, and so he got Harden.  The Rockets have been winning ever since.

There is an irony: trust in the process removes trust in everything else.  Which brings us to today.

Marc Stein; long a semi-reliable source of NBA news, reported today that the Bucks have a "list" of potential head coaches.

Alex Lasry; Bucks Senior Vice President and son of co-owner Marc Lasry, wrote on Twitter that there is no "list", but that the team is doing "due diligence" in its evaluation of Head Coach Joe Prunty.

"Due diligence" is disturbing.  It reveals a belief in the lessor "Trust the Process" system.  It is for losers.  The Celtics got a lonely championship when Andrew Bynum got hurt in the Playoffs.  Outside of that one lucky Ring, Hinkie, Ainge, Morey, and their ilk are oh-for-a-lifetime at winning Championships.

The Patriot Way does not tolerate "due diligence".  Head coaching candidates do not exist until the day there is an open position at Head Coach.  As long as that position is filled, the focus is on succeeding with the man who is in place.

Lasry is young, and young men can be impetuous.  Perhaps his "due diligence" comment should be taken lightly.  Still, it was a mistake to write it and it is an even greater mistake if he abides by it.



Monday, July 3, 2017

Don't Let the 'Imbalanced Conferences' Crisis Go to Waste

Have you heard?  The West is stacked.  After having four of the five best teams and eight of the ten best players last season, the League has slid even further left (geographically).  Paul George to the Pacers.  Jimmy Butler to the T-Wolves.  Even Brook Lopez to the Lakers added more tilt to the talent scales.

2007 sure seems like a long time ago.  A decade ago, the Bucks had one of the most entertaining, dynamic teams in the League (they beat the eventual champion Spurs twice) and finished their East-heavy schedule with a .341 winning percentage.  Kidd & Carter's Nets could only muster .500.  The Shaq/Wade Heat were swept in round one.  All while the paper-soft 1 and 2 out West -- Mavs and Suns -- fell in the first and second rounds, respectively.

The good news is that NBA conference imbalance is cyclical, but the even better news is that some people view the West's current preeminence as a crisis.  As the great Rahm Emanuel famously said, "you never want a crisis to go to waste."  Emanuel meant that when crises happen, the entrenched are vulnerable to needed change.

Bucks Forest would like to see the NBA explore switching to an NHL-style setup, where there are four divisions and teams stay within division for the first two rounds.

The key to the four division setup -- which the NHL hasn't pulled the trigger on, yet -- is that it gives the League more flexibility in avoiding having the top two teams matchup before the Finals.  If the NBA had four divisions -- call them North, South, East and West -- the League could wait until each division crowns its champion, then seed the last four teams for the semi-finals and Finals.

This may be a bit much to digest, so here's an example:

Let's say that the NBA went to four divisions, like so:

NORTH
Bucks
Bulls
Raps
T-Wolves
Grizzlies
Pacers
Pistons

SOUTH
Heat
Magic
Hawks
NOLA
Rockets
Spurs
Mavs
Thunder

EAST
Knicks
Celts
Sixers
Cavs
Nets
Hornets
Wiz

WEST
Lakers
Clips
Dubs
Kings
Blazers
Suns
Nugs
Jazz

If the top four from each division make the postseason, then the 2017 Playoffs would've looked like this (ignoring scheduling differences and such):

North: (1) Raps vs. (4) Pacers, (2) Grizz vs. (3) Bucks
South: (1) Spurs vs. (4) Hawks, (2) Rockets vs. (3) Thunder
East: (1) Celts vs. (4) Hornets, (2) Cavs vs. (3) Wiz
West: (1) Dubs vs. (4) Blazers, (2) Clips vs. (3) Jazz

In this example, the Bulls, Heat, Pistons and Nuggets kind of get screwed and the Hornets get lucky.  Every system has flaws, though.

The advantages of this system come once the Playoffs start.  If we assume that the Raps, Spurs, Cavs and Dubs win their divisions (and, judging by the 2017 Playoffs, that seems fair), then that means that the League has the ability to "seed" the final four in order to provide more compelling matchups.

Basing semi-final seeding on regular season record, it would've been:

Dubs (West) vs. Raps (North)
Spurs (South) vs. Cavs (East)

Dubs vs. Raps may have ended up being just as one-sided as the actual 2017 semi-finals were, but how about that other matchup?  Spurs on the home court vs. Cavs?  Sign me up.  And we still get a tantalizing Finals matchup: either Dubs vs. Spurs or Dubs vs. Cavs.

What we end up with is a system that could result in less fairness for the middling (read: 7th and 8th seed contenders) teams, but more excitement once the Playoffs reach the semi-finals.  No more "easy path" to the Finals, like the Cavs had this year, the Dubs had in 2015, the Heat had in 2014, the Spurs had in 2013, etc.  I think that's a good trade off that most fans would like.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Chad Ford Gives the Bucks an "F" for Drafting a Basketball Version of Mike Mamula

If there's one thing Bucks Forest hates, it's NBA media kiss-asses.

ESPN's soon-to-be-former NBA Draft guru Chad Ford is far from the worst of these creatures.  In fact, just about all of his colleagues are just as bad, if not worse.

That said, it is good to know that the 2017 NBA Draft will be the last Draft that Chad Ford will grade for ESPN.  It is doubly good to know because The Hawaiian Nightmare gave our beloved Bucks an F.

I should be clear: Chad Ford did not officially give the Bucks' Draft an F.  He gave it a C-.  But that C- is bullshit because the NBA is a competitive league.  When competition is involved, grades must be given on a curve.

You can't have one NBA Champion one year and three the next.  And, just like the NBA Playoffs has a winner and losers, the NBA Draft also has winners and losers.  The goal of the Draft is not to be the best you can be.  It is to do better than the other twenty-nine teams.

If we apply a standard 10/20/40/20/10 curve to Chad Ford's 2017 NBA Draft grades, here's what we get:

A
-Kings
-Sixers
-Suns

B
-Warriors
-Raptors
-Jazz
-Magic
-Hornets
-T-Wolves

C
-Wizards
-Cavs
-Lakers
-Knicks
-Trailblazers
-Spurs
-P-Cans
-Hawks
-Pacers
-Pistons
-Mavs
-Celtics

D
-Bulls
-Thunder
-Grizzlies
-Rockets
-Clips
-Heat

F
-Nets
-Nugs
-Bucks

You can argue the placement of some of the teams.  For example, the T-Wolves were bumped up and the Bulls were bumped down because a different ESPN NBA guy graded the Jimmy Butler trade heavily in favor of the T-Wolves.

There is no disputing the Bucks' placement, however.  They were the only team to receive a C-.  No team received a grade in the D or F range.

An odd part about Chad Ford's grade for the Bucks was that Ford seemed to like the Sterling Brown pick.  The Bucks need Wings who can shoot and that's Brown in a nutshell (assuming he's good enough to play in the League).

Where the Bucks felt Chad Ford's wrath was in the selection of DJ Wilson in the first round.  And I think know why Ford felt that way: Wilson is a basketball version of Mike Mamula.

Wilson has all the signs of being a Mike Mamula-esque workout warrior.  While Wilson didn't do drills at the combine, he still hit all of the Mamula checkpoints.  He had a so-so career, he finished with an epic postseason that showed his pro potential and then he wow'd scouts at the combine (with measurables, in Wilson's case).  

I am only hanging the Mamula tag on Wilson to this point in his career.  Wilson was over-drafted based on measurables and a hot stretch at the end of his time in college, just as Mamula was.  Whether Wilson turns out to be a maddening bust for a team that wears green uniforms is an unanswered question.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Bucks Forest Solution for One & Done

NBA Commissioner/Occasional Bucks Forest Archenemy Adam Silver mentioned recently that the League's 'one & done' rule for Draft eligibility is, "not working for anyone".  We agree!  (for once)  A ton of talented athletes enter the League unprepared, a ton of fans have little-to-no familiarity with their team's incoming rookie(s) and college folks (coaches, University administrators, etc.) are probably annoyed by the Semester At Basketball players that breeze through campus.

The initial assumption was that Silver was touting a system that would force incoming draftees to spend at least two years in college, but apparently it is not that cut and dried.  During an NBA Finals telecast a few days ago, commentators Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson were openly advocating for removing any and all waiting time between high school graduation and Draft eligibility.  Myron Medcalf of ESPN.com wrote an article about the topic recently, and several college coaches went on record as being supportive of reinstating high-school-to-the-pros -- which has been banned since 2005 -- as well.

So, which is it?  Let talented athletes get some quick cash straight out of high school, or force guys who want to make a career out of basketball to get some real instruction and seasoning (because, let's be honest, there's very little at the high school/AAU level anymore) before entering the League?

How about they do both?  Bucks Forest's solution is a system that allows for high-school-to-the-pros, but gives a financial incentive to players who go to college.

The idea is to give players a higher salary if they wait to go pro.  So, for example, a player drafted #1 straight out of high school may get a $6 million starting salary, but a player who stayed one season could get $6.5 million.  Maybe make it $7 million for players who stay in school for two years, $7.5 million (25% higher than the 'one & done' baseline) for three years and end it there.

An important aspect of the system would be to continue to reward ex-college stars throughout their NBA careers.  Mid-level exceptions, max contracts and veteran's minimums could all be set 25% higher for players who play college basketball for 3 or 4 years than players who enter the League straight out of high school.

As with any rule change, there could be negative side effects.  If experienced college players were eligible for larger contracts, it could result in some teams lowering their draft value.  The Salary Cap might also need to be adjusted so that teams packed with one & done'ers wouldn't get an unfair advantage.

Whatever happens with the Bucks Forest draft eligibility solution, it was refreshing to this blog's ears to hear Commissioner Silver identify a real problem.  Now, if he would only do something about the officiating.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

7 Things I Want the Bucks to Do That Have Nothing to Do With Basketball

#BucksTwitter is hot nowadays with chatter about the team's GM position.  Should the Bucks have tried harder to retain Hammond?  Will Assistant to the GM (The Office joke) Justin Zanik be promoted?  If not, what does that say about Zanik's relationship with ownership?  Who should the Bucks hire, if not Zanik?  Is there footage of Sam Hinkie sneaking into the Cousins Center in a gorilla suit?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Perhaps my mind isn't inquir-ery enough.  I just don't care.  About any of it.  I view NBA GMs as corporate lackeys.  The Owners hold the purse strings.  The Coach gives his input.  A few other trusted advisors hold sway.  GMs exist to keep the owners happy.

There's an apocryphal GM story that I love re-telling.    It's about the 2009 Draft.  The draft of super-duper star Steph Curry and super-duper bust Haseem Thabeet.  Blake Griffin was the obvious first choice, and he went to the Clippers.  The Grizzlies chose second.  Memphis GM Chris Wallace drafted Thabeet; har-dee-har-har.  Except he wanted Curry.  Memphis Grizzlies Trusted Advisor to the Owner, Jerry West (yes, that Jerry West) convinced Owner Michael Heisley (R.I.P.) that Thabeet was a one-of-a-kind talent that could not be passed upon.  Even more remarkable than Curry's ascent to The Biggest Star Since Jordan is the fact that Wallace is still Memphis GM.  Remarkable, that is, to those who don't quite realize that the NBA is run by Owners, not GMs.

So, enough about the Bucks GM position.  We're here to talk about non-basketball matters.  The Bucks are in a good spot right now, what with attendance up and a new arena opening in about a year.  But good doesn't always mean good enough.  There are a few things that I'd like to see the Bucks do; seven to be exact.

1) Move to the West

It is an open secret that the NBA has a late-night audience.  Far, far, far more than any other American team sport.  While NFL, MLB NHL and college sports TV viewership and ratings tend to decline in the latter hour of prime time, the NBA's get stronger.  For example, the 9:30 p.m. Central Time game on TNT routinely beats the 7 p.m. game in apples-to-apples comparisons.  Another example is that Inside the NBA, the TNT post-game show, gets watched by far more people than ESPN or TNT's pre-game shows.  I am going to choose to stay about 15,000 miles away from speculating on the societal reasons why these example exist.  The bottom line, though, is that NBA fans tend to like watching basketball late at night.

The Bucks are in the East, which means that their television profile goes against the grain.  They are on TV early in Milwaukee far more often than they are on TV late.

Bucks home games start when the Bucks want them to.  It's the road games that can be a problem.  When teams in other time zones host the Bucks, it means that Milwaukee fans must either tune in at an unusual time or miss the game.

The NBA road schedule works like so: Each team plays 15 road games against the opposite conference (1 at each team) and 26 road games against its own conference.  Intra-conference road games consist of 2 away games against each division foe (that's 8), 2 away games against 8 of the 10 non-division foes (plus 16) and 1 away game against the other two non-division foes (plus 2, equals 26 intra-congerence road games).

By playing in the East, 24 of the Bucks' 26 intra-conference road games are against teams in the Eastern Time Zone (the Bulls are the only other East team in the Central time zone).  Therefore, 24 times per season Bucks fans must tune in at 6:30 pm Central, or earlier, to watch their home team.

If the Bucks moved to the West, they would play in the Eastern time zone only 14 times per season.  That would mean ten fewer games starting at 6 or 6:30 pm.

From a TV perspective, the downside of a move West would be the addition of more games that start at 9 or 9:30 pm local time.  But the difference may be less dramatic than one might expect.  Today the Bucks play five games per season in the Pacific time zone; with a move to the West that number would be 11 (or, in some years, 10).  That's six (or maybe 5) extra late games.

To summarize, the overall change in time zones for Bucks road games if the team moves to the West would be:

-Eastern: 10 fewer games
-Central: 2 more games
-Mountain: 1 (or 2) more games
-Pacific: 6 (or 5) more games

That sure looks good to me.  I live in Los Angeles, so admittedly this is self serving.  But even when I am visiting family and friends in Milwaukee, the 6 and 6:30 pm start times feel too early.

There are, of course, other considerations pertaining to a move to the West.  On the plus side, more marquee franchises are in the West, which could raise the Bucks' profile.  On the minus side, the Playoffs would be tougher, at least judging by the history of the past thirty years or so.

For those wondering, "how would a Bucks move affect other teams?", here is what the League might look like if it happens:

Pacific (same as today):
Lakers
The other LA team/Seattle some day
Kings
Dubs
Suns

Southwest:
Houston
Spurs
Mavs
P-Cans
Thunder (I would imagine the Thunder would endorse a pairing with Texas.)

Midwest (talk about some hip, fun cities):
Bucks!
Portland
Denver
SLC
Minny

Central:
Bulls
Cavs
Indy
Pistons
Raps (Perhaps the one sticking point. Not sure if T.dot would want to leave the big East coast cities, but at least they'd have rivalries with Chicago & Detroit)

Southeast:
Bugs
Georgia
Florida
Florida II
Tennessee (S-E-C!  S-E-C!  S-E-C!)

Atlantic:
New York
Brooklyn
Philly
Boston
D.C. (I'd have to think that Bullets/Wiz fans would love being in this division.)

The League would have to go along with a Bucks move to the West.  I hope that ownership at least considers making a proposal.

2) Make the lighting cooler

Confession time: Bucks games are no longer my favorite sporting events.  Part of it is that the L.A. Kings are fun, and they're a 25 minute drive away.  More of it is that UFC shows are so damn good.

As live events, UFC shows have a lot of intrinsic advantages.  There is no 'regular season', where things can get rote and the athletes can seem disconnected.  It's a fight, and fights are fun.  And they have Conor McGregor, who is basically like "Stone Cold" Steve Austin if pro wrestling were real, with a touch of "Nature Boy" Ric Flair for good measure.

Even though regular season Bucks games have some inherent disadvantages, I still don't think that they are optimizing the experience.  Improving the lighting in the arena is one area that could use improvement.

Bucks games at the Bradley Center are too bright.  Just about the whole seating bowl is lit up, and it detracts from the focus on the basketball.

The Lakers do it right.  Here's one image, and you can find others by searching on "lakers game lighting":


That's a good look for a sporting event.  The playing surface is well lit and everything else is mostly dark.

The Bucks can probably take a few other cues from UFC's live event production.  They could have a live 'ring announcer' stand in the center of the court during player intros.  They could eliminate the advertising on the ribbon boards during the action.  They could have assistant coaches put towels over their shoulders and apply Vaseline to the players' faces during timeouts.  (OK, maybe not that one.)

A new arena means a new chance to rig the lighting.  Hopefully the Bucks will consider giving Bucks games more of a "big event" feel.

3) No more music during play

On March 11, 2017, I was at the Bucks home game against the T-Wolves and for the first several minutes of the game there was no music.  It was great.  I could hear the sounds of the game and even, faintly, the chatter from the players.  What's more, this came just a few days after the big controversy over Madison Square Garden not playing any music during the first half of the Dubs/Knicks game.  I assumed the Bucks were doing the same thing, and that I'd get a more pure basketball experience all game.

Unfortunately, my hopes were dashed about six minutes into the game.  The annoying music was back.  The arena MC's were back during timeouts.  It was back to sensory overload at the Bradley Center.  It was perhaps my most disappointing moment as a Bucks fan since the team finished with the third-worst record in the Greg Odom/Kevin Durant year and then dropping to sixth in the Lottery (where they totally redeemed themselves by picking Chairman Yi [Jianlian]).

No other sport does in game music, not even WWE.  And for good reason.  The game is already very enjoyable.  Starting up the cacophony during timeouts is understandable.  The Bucks want to make money, and sponsors pay to be featured during timeouts.  Just let us enjoy the game of basketball once the timeout is over.

4) Hard tickets (optionally)

This one may be a 'me' thing.  I like hard (traditional, printed on ticket stock) tickets.  Lots of people don't.  My request is for the Bucks to give fans the option of using hard tickets.  

I have to credit my pal Front Row Brian with my re-found love of hard tickets.  We went to the Georges St. Pierre vs. Jonny Hendricks UFC show a few years ago, and he dragged me to Will Call to pick up the tickets.  At the time I complained that he could've just printed them.  He pointed out that ticket stubs can be such a nice memory trigger for sporting events you've attended, especially if the tickets are printed on official arena/team ticket stock.  I've never looked back.

I get that mobile tickets (meaning, using your smartphone, credit card or ID to get in the arena) are viewed as the future of event ticketing.  I get why.  Many fans find mobile ticketing convenient.  There is less worry about losing the ticket or buying a fraudulent ticket on the re-sale market.  NBA teams like mobile ticketing because it allows them to potentially grab a cut of the re-sale market from StubHub and others.

I'd still argue that hard tickets are better for fans.  Sure, tickets may get lost on occasion, but getting re-prints at the box office isn't that difficult.  Fraud is not a significant problem with hard tickets; it's mainly a problem with printed (PDF) tickets.  And the re-sale market...?  I'm sure that NBA teams can figure out a way to partner with StubHub and/or create their own just-as-good-or-better re-sale market (which most definitely does not mean NBAtickets.com, because as a re-sale market it leaves a lot to be desired).

As of now, the Bucks plan to go mobile-only for ticketing at the new arena.  Even if you walk up to the arena box office and buy a ticket using cash, the current plan is for the team to ask for your email address and then forward a mobile ticket to the Bucks app (or a ticketing app) on your smartphone.  I hope the team reconsiders, and at least gives us the option for a nice, hard ticket that can act as a memento.

5) Less green & cream

This one is going to get me in trouble.

My Twitter best friend, Bucks Senior VP Alex Lasry, was the driving force behind the current Bucks uniform design.  Some people think he shepherded the Bucks into having the NBA's best set of uniforms.  Unfortunately, I cannot agree.

I'm just not a fan of the current look.  The green is too pale.  Cream should not be a sports color.  The extreme block lettering is... too extreme.  The collar and "sleeves" are big, thick outlines of green (on the white jersey) or cream (on the green jersey).  I'd rather see some kind of multi-colored stripes.  And the logo just isn't any fun.  Who wants a futuristic deer staring at them?

I want the deer spinning a basketball.  I want a real hunter green.  I think red and green works great, when combined right.  Collar and sleeve striping marks some of the League's most iconic uniforms, and it looks great.  And why not white or yellow or gold -- something bright -- instead of that drab, dreary cream?

What's done is done, and the Bucks will most definitely be in their current uniforms for many years to come.  And it's only the uniforms, after all.  I don't even wear sports jerseys anymore.  

My desire here is for the Bucks to minimize the green & cream.  Wear the black uniforms more often for road games.  Use the secondary logo (the one that looks like a green state of Wisconsin, with BUCKS written diagonally) at center court.  Maybe even nudge Nike (who will make NBA uniforms starting next season) to darken that "good land green" a little bit.  Some slight adjustments could go a long way.

6) More Saturday home games

In the Herb Kohl years, Bucks season ticket holders could just about count on 13 Saturday home games per season.  Last year it was only 9.

Why the 30% drop in Saturday home games?  I don't know, but I have a strong guess.  I think it's because the Bucks owners want to book more big concerts and other touring events once the new arena opens.  They know that promoters know that Milwaukee is a tough town to sell out unless your concert is on a Saturday.  Bucks management is trying to condition Bucks fans to attend games Sunday through Friday, like Lakers fans do here in Los Angeles.  (The LA Kings and Clippers get Saturdays at Staples Center.)

I want Milwaukee to get more concerts.  I want my Saturday Bucks games even more.  The arena tends to fill up.  Fans have more time to pre-gam.  People are more likely to be able to stay out after the game and join downtown Milwaukee's weekly tradition called Amateur Night.  Thirteen Saturday home games still leaves thirteen winter & spring Saturdays for concerts.

Last season, the Bucks upped the number of Friday and Sunday home games, ostensibly in an effort to make up for the decrease in Saturday dates.  It's a noble effort, but Fridays and Sundays are not Saturdays.  Plus, Saturdays tend to be the best day of the week for my seventh and final suggestion...

7) Tailgating

Wisconsinites like to drink.  It is something I have always suspected, and now we have proof.

Even moreso, Wisconsinites like to drink outdoors.  Who can resist the fresh air/debilitating liver disease combo that comes from outdoor drinking?

Luckily, Wisconsin sports fans get plenty of opportunities to drink outdoors.  But we want more.  We want tailgating space at the new arena.

I am aware of certain limitations.  Nobody is going to be tailgating during weekday games, at least not until April or so.  Nobody is going to tailgate during mid-season night games because it gets too dark and too cold too early.

But holy heck would Bucks tailgating be awesome during select weekend day games and, most importantly, once the Playoffs begin.

The key is surface parking.  The Bucks need to preserve a surface parking lot somewhere relatively close to the arena.  It can be done.  The Padres did it in San Diego, and their downtown is a heck of a lot more busy than Milwaukee's.  San Diego's Tailgate Park is 7.5 acres of surface parking that includes 1,000 spots with room to tailgate.  And -- lo and behold -- 7.5 acres is just about the EXACT same size as the area currently covered by the Bradley Center and its adjacent parking structure.

Tearing down a parking structure to create surface parking is extraordinarily unlikely to happen, but tearing down the Bradley Center will happen.  That will create about 5 acres of space, which would be large enough for at least 600 cars and trucks to tailgate.

At present, the plan is for the Bucks to develop office space (or something else besides surface parking) in the space where the Bradley Center currently sits.  Hopefully they either reconsider, or find some other area nearby the arena where a few thousand hearty souls can grill out and drink a few beers during the sunnier days of basketball season.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The End of the Hammond Era (Three Years After It Actually Ended)

John Hammond is gone from the Bucks, having accepted a position as Orlando's general manager.  Good for him; "who cares?" for the Bucks.

When Jason Kidd was hired in summer of 2014, it was clear that Hammond's time as the Bucks' top personnel executive was over.  The initial reporting of Kidd's Nets-to-Bucks move cited Kidd's inability to gain control over player personnel.  Whatever bridges Kidd may have burned in Brooklyn, it was implausible that he would come to Milwaukee as Just Coach.

It is unclear exactly how much sway Hammond held since Kidd arrived, but there is plenty of evidence to support the theory that Kidd was in charge.  The Bucks seemed to acquire a lot of players who excelled when playing either for or against Kidd.  They also seemed to hire a lot of players represented by Jeff Schwartz, who is Kidd's long time agent.

Then there were the rumors.  Brandon Knight being traded for Michael Carter-Williams, rumored to be because Kidd wanted a big, pass-first point guard in his own mold.  Rashad Vaughn being drafted over Bobby Portis in 2015, rumored to be because Kidd was worried that a young, active Big like Portis could retard Jabari Parker's development.  (Kidd may have had a point.  Who knows how much the drafting of Ray Allen affected Big Dog, a fellow jump-shooting Wing.)

Whatever the level of Hammond's control, it now seems clear that he wanted out from the moment Kidd arrived.  Hammond was just turned down for Orlando's top front office position.  Now he'll be number two.  Only Hammond knows for sure, but from where this blog sits it appears that Hammond simply wanted to make sure that he maintained the G.M. title, no matter the circumstances.

If we remove the Kidd era, then Hammond's reign lasted from 2008 to 2014.  It's a checkered history. For every Giannis, there's a Larry Sanders (who, it must be said, I loved).  A Joe Alexander for every Brandon Jennings, a Charlie V for every Monta and a JJ Redick for every John Salmons.  And, heck, even the good ones end well, though we expect Giannis to.

As with any Bucks employee from the Herb Kohl era, one has to wonder how much influence The Senator had over Hammond's performance.  Kohl was noted -- perhaps notorious -- for wanting to compete every year.  Hammond alluded to this after drafting Giannis, noting that the Bucks had to find a way to procure an All-Star.  The clear implication being that Kohl would never let the team bottom out intentionally.

It all makes for a complicated calculation of the man's Bucks legacy.  We don't know exactly how much control he had.

From this blog's perspective, there is a temptation to forgive all of Hammond's mistakes because he got us Giannis.  Billy McKinney, the head of scouting, apparently was the guy who sold Hammond on Giannis, but Hammond still pulled the trigger.  The 2013 Bucks were a Playoff team -- through, granted, not a very good one -- and Hammond still had the guts to draft a complete project who had no chance of helping the 2014 Bucks be better.  That's big.

Is that enough?  Can Giannis make up for the frustrating (2009), inspiring (2010), disappointing (2011), maddening (2012), bickering (2013), awful (2014) legacy of Hammond's six seasons in charge?  Not to me.

John Hammond will always be in the Bucks Forest dog house.  He surely has reasons and regrets.  Any decision maker does.  Ultimately, too many of his decisions went wrong.  That's why he'll be second banana in Orlando instead of the man in charge.