Kohl Seeks Additional Owners for Milwaukee Bucks

Dec 17, 2013

The Milwaukee Bucks against the Toronto Raptors at Bradley Center.
Credit Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl has announced he's seeking additional owners for the NBA franchise.

In a statement released yesterday, the former U.S. Senator said his effort to broaden the team's ownership is aimed at strengthening the team's financial position, and keeping it in Milwaukee.

Kohl says all new owners must agree to keep the NBA team in Milwaukee, just as he did when he purchased the team in 1985.

Kohl's announcement comes amid uncertainty over the future of the Bucks' arena, the BMO Harris Bradley Center. The NBA has said the arena isn't up to league standards and without a new arena the team's viability in Milwaukee is questionable. A report from the Milwaukee-based Public Policy Forum says if the Bucks leave the city in 2017 when its lease is up, the BMO Harris Bradley Center would face an uncertain future.

Kohl addressed the issue directly:

"In addition to committed ownership, it is imperative that we get to a new 21st century sports and entertainment facility in a timely manner, not only for the Bucks, but also for the more than 1.5 million visitors who attend nearly 200 events held there each year."

Milwaukee Magazine sports reporter Howie Magner says Kohl's announcement was likely influenced by the arena controversy, though he says it's also a "positive step forward" for the future of the franchise.

"What I think Herb Kohl is doing here, in addition to laying the foundation for the succession of the franchise, is he's kind of opening up the door up to some allies in getting the arena built," he says. "The more respected people you have out there touting this thing, I think it increases the amount of success and the more people you have out there willing to put their money into the pot has to help the effort to build the arena."

An article in Milwaukee Magazine estimates a new arena could cost around $500 million. While Kohl and potential new ownership would represent a large private investment, others are calling for at least some public dollars to finance a new arena. But some are asking why the public should fund a fancy new sports venue for a wealthy team and league.  A panel of Waukesha County lawmakers voted last week to oppose a regional tax.

Rumors about potential new owners often mention Mark Attanasio, owner of the Brewers.

"People see what he has done with the Brewers, and they say, 'Well, if he can do that with the Brewers, then why can't he do that with the Milwaukee Bucks?'" Magner says. "(Attanasio) has publicly stated there's nothing to those rumors."

Other names that have surfaced includes financier Ted Kellner, founder of Fidicuiary Management, and Craig Leipold, owner of the Minnesota Wild NHL team who lives in Racine. But, according to Magner, Kohl has said there have been no ongoing talks with any potential new investors.

The call for new ownership may be welcomed by some who have criticized Kohl in his role as the Bucks' owner, but Magner says the former Senator is the only reason the team is still in the Milwaukee.

"He could sell this team to an out-of-state interest who would want to move it elsewhere overnight and he would make a heck of a lot more money doing so than he would by selling it to somebody who would promise to keep it here, but he's not doing that and he's not doing that because he loves the city and he wants the Bucks to stay in this city forever," he says.

Magner says Kohl has indicated he's willing and plans to make a substantial donation toward a new arena, but it's up in the air whether a new owner would be required to do the same. 

A recent thread on reddit is asking if people would be willing to buy a share of Bucks ownership, similar to the Packers. Thirty-four people have contributed with responses, ranging from "I would, and I don't even like basketball" to "Can I buy into anything that would send them packing and bring in an NHL team?"