When Senator Herb Kohl showed up at Milwaukee Bucks Media Day, I knew an important story would emerge.
It’s very rare for a NBA owner to be at his team’s media day. It’s even rarer for that owner to address the media for 20 minutes. However, that’s exactly what Herb Kohl did, and he cleverly used the forum to get his calculated message across.
Kohl served as a United States Senator from 1989 until 2012. He did not seek reelection when his term ended on January 3rd. Herb Kohl did not discuss the potential new arena in his opening remarks, but it was inevitable that the media would ask a couple questions about it.
And that’s when we saw the newly retired politician, enter full stump speech mode. It included a statement that sounds eerily like a precursor to a forthcoming ultimatum.
“In order to keep the Bucks, we have to have a facility. And in order to get a facility, we have to keep the Bucks. So it’s like a two-fer: We’re either going to get both in the years ahead or we’re going to have neither.”
Kohl is laying the groundwork for a tried and true tactic of sports franchises. It’s the first step towards extracting public funding for their private enterprise. It’s not original, but it’s always effective. It’s the whole “give us your tax dollars to build our private playground for millionaires, otherwise we’re leaving for another city routine.” See Sacramento and what they just went through with the Kings.
Seattle, you could be up again soon in the leverage game.
The local government pretty much caves in every time a pro sports franchise holds that city hostage for a new stadium. Even if the voters are overwhelmingly against it, the civic leaders usually ignore the wishes of the people and strike a deal with the owner. It’s either that or lose the team.
Media Day was the perfect time for Kohl’s message to reach the masses, and he accentuated his agenda with rhetoric that would make any campaign manager proud:
“And that’s important for Milwaukee and Wisconsin. To have a multi-use modern facility and have a NBA franchise, one of 30 in the world.”
Yes, it’s admirable that Kohl wants to keep the local team in town, but we’ve seen all the economic studies. We know that new stadiums/arenas don’t equal economic boom towns. They don’t create stable, high-paying jobs. They take money away from the infrastructure, not add to it. New stadiums and arenas deprive schools, hospitals, parks, public works, roads, bridges etc. of funding.
The public interest sees budget cuts so that a private corporation can benefit. No matter what a team owner tells you, these deals (socialized costs for privatized profit) are always heists. Boondoggles, scams, flim flams, Ponzi schemes, raw deals or whatever you want to call them.
Now Herb Kohl did reaffirm at Media Day that he would make a “significant contribution” to the funding of the new arena. However, the University of Wisconsin grad (you’ve heard of the Kohl Center) and grocery/department store magnate is worth $280 million, according to a 2005 estimate. A 2006 report said he was one of the three richest men in the U.S. Senate. Yes, Herb Kohl is committed to keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee.
But the Senator can do that with his own money. He doesn’t need the tax dollars of America’s Dairyland to accomplish his goal. The current lease on the Bradley Center is up in 2017. However, it’s only 25 years old.
Do they really need a new building after just 25 years?
“As this facility, as well kept up as it is, gets older and older, it will be harder and harder for Milwaukee to compete, not only to generate revenue, but to attract these kind of event, so have to be a little forward looking,” Kohl said.
A big events center like this is a huge investment of taxpayer money. And you’re telling me it’s obsolete in under 30 years?
The Bucks title drought isn’t even that old (1971 NBA Champions).
Herb Kohl also emphasized a new arena would serve the Marquette Golden Eagles, Milwaukee Admirals, entertainment events and other activities.
As you’ve obviously figured out by now, I’m against public funding for stadiums in all their forms. My tax dollars should only go to facilities that I can use FREE OF CHARGE. I shouldn’t have to give a red cent to any building that I would later have to pay $75 to enter. However, my voice will go unheard, my influence is minimal.
Herb Kohl will get his arena, and although he’ll foot some of the bill, the citizens of Wisconsin will pay the rest.
“It’s going to happen. We’re getting a facility. I am confident that we’ll get a facility,” he said.
Paul M. Banks is the owner of The Sports Bank.net, an affiliate of Fox Sports. An analyst for 95.7 The Fan and 1620 The Zone, he also writes for Chicago Now. Follow him on Twitter (@paulmbanks) and Facebook, subscribe to his RSS feedPowered by Sidelines Follow paulmbanks