Milwaukee Bucks’ Arena Name Is A Groundbreaker

Courtesy Bucks
– Fiserv Forum
The new home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks will be known as Fiserv Forum.
The NBA Milwaukee Bucks’ arena naming-rights deal with Fiserv, a 25-year agreement announced Thursday, stands out for carving out a new category in sports marketing: financial technology.
Fiserv Forum is the official name of the $524 million facility, which will have its first ticketed event Sept. 4, a concert by The Killers and Violent Femmes, a 38-year-old Milwaukee band. The official opening date is Aug. 26.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the Bucks had been asking for $7 million a year, team President Peter Feigin said in a report published in 2017.
Fiserv, a payment processing firm, employs about 800 people at its headquarters in Brookfield, Wis., a Milwaukee suburb, and it has 24,000 workers worldwide. The publicly traded company generated $5.7 billion in revenue in 2017 with a net profit of $1.2 billion, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
Given the size of the company, Fiserv remains a little-known brand to consumers in large part because of its business-to-business model. That all changes now after aligning with the NBA, a global brand.
For the Bucks, creating a new category breaks ground in sports business circles. The big plus is the deal allowed the team to retain BMO Harris Bank as a major sponsor. The bank, which had naming rights to the Bucks’ old arena, is a founding partner at Fiserv Forum. Those deals typically run seven figures annually for a minimum of 10 years.
“It was a complete win-win with the ability to really align partnerships efficiently,” Feigin said.
For the naming-rights deal alone, “you’ve got a prosperous, growing, evolving NBA team and a financial tech company based on innovation and growth … which goes on for generations.”
Getting the deal done wasn’t easy. The process for defining a new category from scratch was the most difficult part, said Matt Pazaras, the Bucks’ senior vice president of business development and strategy.
Pazaras, who worked on the Barclays Center naming-rights deal with the old New Jersey Nets, led the Bucks’ effort in the Fiserv negotiations. It all started about three years ago when Feigin first met with Jeff Yabuki, Fiserv’s president and CEO, at a Greater Milwaukee Committee luncheon. The details were fleshed out over the past six months, Feigin said.
Over time, as discussions got serious, Pazaras and his staff took over. Their due diligence included learning as much as they could about Fiserv’s business. That’s typically the case with all sponsorship opportunities, but in this case it was especially critical toward defining the category and coming up with a total value, Pazaras said. To put things in context, Fiserv has tens of thousands of clients and completes billions of transactions every day, said sources familiar with the negotiations.
Pazaras said, “It started with what was already in place with our (existing) financial partner, BMO Harris, to where is (Fiserv’s) business now and where it’s going over the next 25 years, which is really to some degree, impossible to do … but to give them and us enough leeway to keep updating it as their business changes.”
As part of the negotiations, the Bucks used Navigate, a sports marketing research firm, to help them determine a value for the agreement. Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment consulted with Fiserv on the buy side, officials with the agency confirmed.
Fiserv’s activation includes its logo on the arena roof as well as digital and permanent signs on the concourses, in the seating bowl and on the basketball court. The company’s brand will extend to the entertainment plaza across the street, Feigin said.
“Their deal is for the arena, but as we market and build content, there’s very little separation between the entertainment plaza … and the arena,” Feigin said. “By default, physically, brandwise and promotionwise, they’re integrated throughout the district.”
Pazaras said team officials are working with Fiserv to create special events at the plaza for its employees.
In addition, the Bucks have created a platform called Experience Fiserv, geared to entertaining Fiserv clients and guests tied to the team’s away games at other NBA arenas.
“When we’re playing the Mavs in Dallas, for example, it’s about how do we put together a turnkey program when we’re on the road, whether it be hospitality or access to the team announcers and executives,” Pazaras said. “Under NBA guidelines, we can’t outwardly advertise our partners, but we can do a hospitality program.”
The NBA will release the 2018-19 schedule in August. The Bucks’ first regular-season home game is expected to be in mid-October, team officials said.
The Bucks deal comes a few years after the Atlanta Falcons pitched Fiserv to buy naming rights to their new $1.5 billion facility, which ultimately became Mercedes-Benz Stadium, said Jeff Marks, sports agency IPG360’s CEO. At the time, Marks worked for Premier Partnerships, the Falcons’ naming-rights consultant. Fiserv has a major presence in Alpharetta, Ga., an Atlanta suburb.
“They were kicking it around, but it became a ‘home court’ issue,” Marks said. “If Mercedes-Benz Stadium was in Milwaukee, the deal probably would have got done.”
As it stands now, though, Marks sees a trend developing in sports business with the transformation between financial services and technology with companies such as Fiserv, First Data and Heartland Global.
“It’s the next big play at sports venues when you think about transactions and smartphone technology,” he said.