Milwaukee joins NHL expansion mix
Off The Draw
As reported on Monday night in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is expected to announce on Tuesday morning a financing plan that includes bond sales to help build a multipurpose arena in downtown Milwaukee.
That’s tremendous news for the city’s basketball team. The NBA had given the Bucks a deadline of November 2017 to secure a deal for a new arena to replace the 27-year-old BMO Harris Bradley Center (photo above). Without it, the team would have been free to leave Milwaukee.
And that’s where this becomes an item of interest for hockey fans, particularly those who are hoping for an NHL expansion team in Seattle. That city’s hopes rest entirely on the construction of its own new downtown arena, but the deal to make that happen is dependent on the ability of developer Chris Hansen to land a relocated NBA franchise. The Bucks were seen not just as his best option, but also as maybe—in the wake of his failed bid last year to lure the Sacramento Kings north—his only hope. Now that the future of the Bucks is secure, the dream of a new arena in Seattle is officially on life support.
And with no new arena, there’s no chance for an NHL team. It’s that simple.
But with one window closing, could another open? Would a new multipurpose facility in a major city with a hockey background give the league a fresh option for western expansion?
Milwaukee fits a need geographically, and could quickly market rivalries with NHL teams in Chicago, Minnesota and St. Louis. The hockey culture is certainly in place. The six-time national champion Wisconsin Badgers have a massive following in the state, and the AHL Milwaukee Admirals have been a fairly consistent draw. Although attendance has been sluggish this season, averaging around 4,500 per game, there was a time when the Admirals routinely attracted upwards of 9,000 fans to the Bradley Center for IHL games.
That’s not a bad start, but there are reasons why Milwaukee has never been at the top of any prospective expansion lists. The biggest one: There are concerns that the city isn’t large enough to support two winter sports franchises. There’s also no obvious local ownership option in place. Former Blackhawks announcer Lloyd Pettit, who passed away in 2003, provided the backing for the last significant attempt to land an NHL expansion team for the city, in the early 1990s. But after seeing what little talent the Lightning and the Senators got for the millions they spent to get into the league, Pettit abandoned his quest.
So Milwaukee still appears to be a long shot. But here’s the thing: Big plans lead to big thinking. And plans don’t get much bigger than a half a billion dollars committed to a downtown arena in a major American city. With dates to fill and debt to service, a second anchor tenant will get serious consideration.
Don’t rule out the NHL in the Badger State just yet.