Conflicting reports surfaced on Saturday regarding the future of Bucks ownership. Sen. Herb Kohl -- the sole owner of the team since 1985 -- has been actively seeking investors for months, though on Saturday Bill Simmons of ESPN's NBA Countdown and Grantland.com reported that Kohl would soon be selling the franchise outright pending league approval. Later, Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel pumped the brakes on that possibility as a source classified Simmons' report as "premature."
How close Kohl is to securing new ownership for the team remains to be seen, though his primary objective through the process of courting investors was finding a way to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee. The team has resided in the city since its creation in 1968, though concerns over the aging BMO Bradley Center has sparked talk of potential relocation. Simmons reported that the NBA "would rather see the Bucks stay," and thus aided in the pursuit of a new ownership group. Any such agreement made would be under the expressed intent of keeping the team where it is, though as Simmons noted a new arena -- or huge renovation -- would assuredly be a component of such a deal.
The Bradley Center is one of the oldest arenas in active NBA use, and one of the only such buildings of its generation to go without a significant completed or planned remodel. Upgrades were made last season to incorporate more suite accommodations and theater-style seating, though then-deputy-commissioner Adam Silver still noted afterward that a new arena in Milwaukee was a prominent item on the NBA's agenda (via Milwaukee Business Journal):
“One obvious issue we all have to deal with is we need a new arena in Milwaukee,” said Adam Silver, deputy National Basketball Association commissioner, speaking of the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
...“At the end of the day compared to other modern arenas in the league, this arena is a few hundred thousand square feet too small,” Silver said. “It doesn’t have the sort of back-of-house space you need, doesn’t have the kinds of amenities we need.
“It doesn’t have the right sort of upper bowl/lower bowl (seating) configuration for the teams frankly that Milwaukee wants to compete against,” he said.
That said, financing an arena is tricky under any circumstances, even with Kohl himself reportedly willing to back the project financially. Any endeavor for public funding through tax increases would be a tough sell; the residents of five surrounding counties are already footing the bill for the construction of Miller Park, home of the Brewers, which will be paid off by taxes levied through 2020 -- a later end date than initially expected. Adding the cost of a new arena on top of that commitment may not be feasible.
The clock is ticking, in a sense, as the NBA has eyed 2017 as a tentative deadline for Bradley Center replacement. A new building doesn't need to be completed by then, necessarily, though in that year the Bucks' lease with the Bradley Center will expire and the team is expected to have a definite, approved plan ready to put into action. The Bucks, despite intentions to compete for a playoff spot this season, hold the single worst record in the NBA at 14-63. Despite those recent struggles and a bottom-five ranking in attendance in each of the past three seasons, Simmons reports that the team is expected to be sold for $525-550 million. In January, Forbes magazine valued the Bucks at $405 million.