Milwaukee Bucks seek $4 million a year for Deer District naming rights

Milwaukee Bucks Deer District housing project.

Source: Milwaukee Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks, in their quest to repeat as NBA champions, will begin this weekend facing the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Off the field, the team demands $4 million a year for the property rights to their place inside Deer District, a 30-acre property located outside of their arena.

In an interview with CNBC, Bucks president Peter Feigin described the naming rights asset as getting the keys to “a town that we’ve created in the state of Wisconsin.” The Deer District is part of the team’s economic development plan, to which taxpayers have contributed $250 million. And the project also won the Bucks their $500 million+ arena, which opened in 2018.

The Bucks ownership group includes top investors Marc Lasry, Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan. The consortium bought the franchise for $550 million in 2014. It is now worth $1.9 billion, up slightly from $1.62 billion in 2020, according to Forbes.

The Bucks are counting on the Deer District to help them generate more revenue outside of the NBA.

“What pro teams understand now is that you create the mothership and have it powered by a successful NBA team and then raise the waters around you,” said Feigin, who is also chairman of the team arena, Fiserv Forum.

Renderings of building in Deer District in Milwaukee

Source: Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks own

Over the years, more and more professional sports clubs have added real estate income to capitalize on the popularity of their brands.

The Golden State Warriors operate the Chase Towers, the commercial and residential buildings outside the Chase Center. That helped push their valuation to $5.6 billion, from more than $3 billion pre-pandemic. Los Angeles Clippers owner and former Microsoft CEO Steve Baller is moving his team to Inglewood and will leverage real estate around the $1.2 billion Intuit Dome. That could improve the Clippers’ value.

In Major League Baseball, the Atlanta Braves created The Battery Atlanta, a residential and entertainment district. The Ricketts family, owners of the Chicago Cubs, also own real estate around historic Wrigley Field. NFL team owner Jerry Jones created “The Star” – a 91-acre mixed-use development in Frisco, Texas where the Cowboys train.

Team-driven real estate projects are cities within cities, where people “live, work and play,” said Jessi Sanchez, senior vice president of sports ratings and consultancy firm Playfly Premier Partnerships. The company advised the Atlanta Falcons with the naming rights around Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Owners are looking to make more money from people wanting to attend live sporting events, even if they’re not inside the arenas, Sanchez said. “They are now property developers,” he said. “They’re not just a sports team anymore.”

Sanchez compared Deer District to the Cubs’ “Gallagher Way” entertainment district. The MLB team sold the rights naming rights to global insurance company Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Renderings of building in Deer District in Milwaukee

Source: Milwaukee Bucks

Feigin, the Bucks manager, said his team would “exploit opportunities to generate more revenue” with tenants including a supermarket, pharmacy and gym. Upscale apartments are part of the plan, and Marriott has committed to a hotel slated to open in 2023.

“We’re in full development,” Feigin said. “We have a hotel that is a third way. We are thinking about other principles. We are going to have people working there and more people living there.”

What’s in it for business partners?

Sanchez said the Bucks’ asking price for naming rights could align with the market, depending on the exposure package. The terms of the suggested deal should be at least 10 years, as it provided that it would take the sponsors half that time to exploit the rights.

Sanchez added that businesses are given “multiple touchpoints” because mini-cities appeal more than sports consumers, but “health and wellness [consumer] to someone who loves entertainment,” he said.

Another selling point for the Bucks is how often they appear on national television. The Deer District appeared on Disney’s ABC Network during the finale. That exposure “equates to impression and value,” Feigin said, noting the more than 60,000 people who packed the Deer district to watch NBA games away.

Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks celebrates during Game 6 of the 2021 NBA Finals on July 20, 2021 at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Copyright 2021 NBAE.

David Sherman | National Basketball Association | Getty Images

But the Bucks will have to keep winning to make that asset attractive. In the NBA, winning dynasties attract the best companies. That’s why the Warriors, who have returned to their title, are poised to become the NBA’s most beloved franchise, topping $700 million in revenue in 2022. The Bucks have one asset that should helping them keep over the years, too: 27-year-old superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, two-time regular season MVP and Finals MVP last year.

“This is what a championship team and organization looks like,” Feigin said. “We’re on an upswing as to what our narrative is and what our results are.”

He said the Bucks had seen an increase in trade inquiries since July 2021, the month after winning the championship, but did not discuss specifics. The team added Motorola as a jersey patch partner after that company walked away from the Brooklyn Nets, who were just swept by the Celtics.

“You want winning to be your accelerator in a big way,” Feigin said. “These are the times to take advantage of that.”

The Bucks face the Celtics on Sunday in Game 1 of their best-of-7 series.

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