Milwaukee’s New Entertainment Temple

The Milwaukee Bucks are moving into a new 17,500-capacity arena, due to open in September 2018. The $524 million project is about more than just sports. The plan is to turn Milwaukee into a favorite destination for the world’s biggest acts and shows.  

Zinc panels are installed as during construction of the new Milwaukee Bucks arena.

Bucks president Peter Feigin, his SVP of communications Barry Baum as well as Raj Saha, the new venue’s GM and head of programming, are visiting London Oct. 2-4 to meet with promoters, managers and agents and educate them about Milwaukee’s new entertainment temple. Pollstar spoke to Saha prior to the visit.

The Bucks will be moving out of the almost 30-year-old , where they are leaseholders, to their very own arena across the street. Marquette University’s men’s basketball team is joining in.

The new arena is part of a new 30-acre redevelopment that is reshaping downtown Milwaukee. It includes the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Sports Science Center, which is already being used by the Bucks for training purposes. A garage with space for 1,200 cars opens in a few weeks, with more developments to follow.

“The main economic driver of all this will be the arena, which opens in September 2018,” Saha said. “We’re on schedule.”

The arena is connected to a 42,000-square-foot, mixed-use plaza, similar to the Peninsula Square of , where Saha was on the management team for four years.

“We can have up to 8,000 or 9,000 people to an event at the plaza, the same time that we can have 17,000 people inside the arena.” The plaza is part of the “Live Block,” which is going to include bars, restaurants and other entertainment spaces on the opposite end of the plaza from the arena.

Another part that can be described as O2-inspired is the entire artist and backstage experience.

“We really took a hard look at that to the point where we added a separate kitchen and cooking space just for the artists,” Saha said. “We’re looking at a game room concept and simple things like adding a warm feeling to the rooms themselves and allowing artists, promoters and tour managers to control the temperature within their workspace.”

The Bucks and Marquette’s men’s basketball team will be the only sports tenants of the new venue. That leaves plenty of room for entertainment, and Saha is open to working with all promoters: Live Nation, Pabst Theater Group, Feld Entertainment, AEG, the Harlem Globetrotters –you name it.

“We’re obviously also speaking to the mixed martial arts companies and boxing promoters. Our plan is to really blow out the opening and have as much diverse content on as many days as possible.

“We’re future proving it by putting an ice hockey floor in the building. Even though there is no ice hockey team here, we’re still able to do ice shows or host the University of Wisconsin’s hockey team, the Badgers,” he said.

The floor can also be configured for indoor tennis, soccer and family shows as well as corporate events and expos. Talks with some of Wisconsin’s Fortune 500 companies to hold their events at the new area are already under way.

Two intricate curtain systems allow for the capacity to be cut down to 2,500 for an event – or blow it all out for 17,500 to 18,000 spectators at an in-the-round show.

E-sports is receiving some dedicated attention, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given that the Milwaukee Bucks are one of the founding teams in the NBA 2K e-league.

“There’s two full-time employees dedicated to the e-sports side of the business, and that part of the business is growing.”

Most tours are currently hitting Chicago’s United Center or the Allstate Arena, a little over an hour’s drive away from Milwaukee. While some shows visit Milwaukee’s Bradley Center even now, the experience is somewhat subdued as two thirds of the seats are in the upper level of the building – which also negatively impacts ticket prices.

It’s the other way round at Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center.

 “We flipped it, so we actually have 10,000 seats in our lower level and only 5,000 upstairs. And it was built for basketball sight lines, so everything’s pulled a lot closer to the center of the arena,” Saha explained.

Given that the NBA is a global league, the arena comes with very high security standards, similar to what one would expect at the Olympics, World Cup or any other major sports event.

“Fans here in the U.S. have different expectations when they go to a sports event,” Saha said. “They want to make sure they walk through metal detectors, which is what we have here. There’s the ability to do secondary screenings if necessary. We’ve got security protection bollards around the building, which would stop any vehicle from even getting close to the actual walls.

“Our head of security comes from the Secret Service, and we have a consultant here called Guidepost, which has been very helpful not just setting our security strategy but also helping us identify camera locations, the types of cameras and the types of air monitoring systems that are needed.”

Fans are already able to store their game and parking tickets on their Milwaukee Bucks app on the phone. “We are going to expand that to cover arena events. We are currently going through the process of what our point of sale and payment systems are going to look like, as well as our mobile ticketing solution for all events, not just basketball.”

While the specifics are currently being worked out, geo-fencing and Beacons will definitely be part of the new ticketing system, which means that location based features and messaging services will play an important role in the arena’s communication with its guests.

Since technology is so fast-lived and nobody knows whether what is being used in 2017 will still be around in 2018, Saha’s main focus was, again, to future-proof the building. “So our biggest thing was making sure that we have the bandwidth to cover ourselves as technology grows.”