The owners of the Milwaukee Bucks are two billionaires. One (Marc Lasry) is a founder of a global investment firm, the other (Wes Edens) is a founder of a global asset management company. So we’re talking the champagne, private planes and caviar crowd that purchases very pricey toys most of us can never afford. Case in point: the Bucks sold for $550 million dollars.
In the Bucks, Lasry and Edens netted a team on the rise, a well built core group of talented young players who have the opportunity to grow together and perhaps build something special. As proof of that, the Bucks made the playoffs this year and although they lost in the first round they set the bar for themselves in the ultra competitive Central Division, competing with the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Let’s go back a year ago. Marc Lasry and Wes Edens looked as if they were out of their league. The NBA isn’t Wall Street, the culture is far different. Lasry and Eden’s learning curve became clear when the newly installed owners hired Jason Kidd before they fired Larry Drew. It was a social media disaster that had the appearance of Wall Street ethics in the center of the NBA. It was not a good start.
But the summer drama was a distant memory as the Bucks were able to compete, month in, month out. They lost Jabari Parker to season ending ACL injury but that didn’t derail them. They traded for Michael Carter- Williams as an upgrade to their backcourt. In the playoffs, the Bucks learned what all lower seeds learn, the deck was stacked against them. But everyone agrees, the Bucks future is bright.
The summer free agency period continued the positivity. The Bucks reeled in Greg Monroe. The Bucks, as an organization, may not net $100 million like the big-market Lakers but they grabbed a player the Lakers really wanted. Basketball in Milwaukee is good.
But the financial details of contemporary basketball in Milwaukee- not so much. This is why.
The Bucks billionaire owners have begged the state legislature to fund a new arena using taxpayer money, instead of using only their own money or putting together a group of private financiers. Strategically, this has a name: OPM. Other People’s Money.
In this case it is the rank and file taxpayers of Wisconsin, whether they live in Milwaukee or not, who are being asked to foot the bill for billionaires.
Once the new arena is built there will be the same surcharge on tickets there is now which is of little consolation to Milwaukee’s African American and Latino class who already endure the strain of health care coverage and treatment inequality, whether it be cancer or heart disease or the damned flu.
In January, a CBS News Poll revealed that Milwaukee was the second poorest city in America, trailing Detroit. Poverty next door to luxury only reinforces us vs. them, the haves and the have-nots. Civic resentment builds as more money is poured into a sports arena rather than education or juvenile incarceration rates or after school programs or re-training of the manufacturing class.
The poster child for income inequality is the wealthy and their ability to secure money on the taxpayers dime and the poor having nothing about their lives changed except being forced to resettle somewhere else. The poor are displaced by the luxury. Rents are raised, regentrification takes over, the police protect the interests of the privileged.
But fans don’t think of the specifics, like who is going to really pay for this and what are the long term effects of the cost. Hearing is selective. The word billionaire is perceived as thank God. But who are those luxury suites really for?
Per their agreement with Herb Kohl, Lasry and Edens have to put up $100 million of their own money in the construction of the new arena. It is something, yes. But it is not everything. What about the other $300 million? Suck the taxpayer dry, that’s what.
Last month, a bipartisan deal was negotiated for $250 million dollars in subsidies. With accrued interest, the citizens of Milwaukee and everyone else in Wisconsin will pay $400 million dollars over time. $400 million dollars. For a basketball arena. That would be welders and teachers and cashiers and engineers and nurses and news producers and X-Ray tech’s. They are the ones paying through the nose, not the two billionaires.
On top of that bit of lunacy, Milwaukee County- where the arena will be built- can’t even pay the debts it already has on the books much less new ones for an arena that only the privileged will be able to afford. Unpaid property taxes in the county are staggering, thrusting the county into a debt it is buried under. Additional debt accumulation derived from money the county depended on but is now siphoned away, funneled to pay arena costs, will have a trickle down effect. The billionaires will have zero consequences, the underclass will absorb it all as social services and bus routes are slashed for fiscal reasons.
What exactly are the priorties here?
The deal still has to go through the Republican controlled Assembly and needs 15 Democrats to come on board after a vigorous debate. All signs point to 15 Dems crossing the line in agreement. It will happen. The Bucks will get their new arena. The billionaires will get their welfare. The fans will get a spanking new house in which to go to games.
It must be noted, though, that in 2014-15 the Bucks were 27th in attendance. 27th out of 30 NBA teams. So, curb the enthusiasm.
photo via llananba