At first blush, the Milwaukee Bucks’ current ticket promotion, “Cheer The Future,” sounds like an old joke: the prize for first place is one week in Milwaukee! The prize for second place is two weeks in Milwaukee …
The Bucks were so bad last season, so seemingly far from playing competitive basketball, that the sales department’s offer of a steep discount on tickets in 2015-16 – as steep as free! – based on tickets bought and used this season might seem more punitive than generous, going strictly by their 15-67 finish in 2013-14. Milwaukee pulled off what looked to be one of the great shell games in recent NBA history, pledging not to “tank” — then-owner Herb Kohl flatly said so on Media Day — and then outtanking the other league’s bottom feeders to grab the best odds in the Draft lottery.
The move, driven by injuries and underperformance as much as any rebuilding strategy, worked out beautifully. The Bucks landed the No. 2 pick and, in selecting Duke’s Jabari Parker, wound up with a draftee most scouts think can contribute immediately. Parker also has said all the right things about pledging his services to Milwaukee long-term, and he has a built-in fan base 90 miles to the south in his hometown of Chicago.
But all that losing came at a price, and not just in pride or – for coach Larry Drew and his staff – in job security. Milwaukee’s attendance went from an average of 15,348 in the previous seven seasons to 13,511, a drop of 12 percent. After ranking between 22nd and 27th from 2006-07 through 2012-13 in home attendance, the Bucks finished last in 2013-14.
It wasn’t even just a money thing, as bad as the hemorrhaging was. The BMO Harris Bradley Center on too many nights went limp, the empty seats of the upper bowl and the quiet ones down below feeling like a betrayal of the franchise’s headier times: The championship era of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1970s. Don Nelson’s Marques Johnson-Sidney Moncrief powerhouses of the ’80s. The excitement when Ray Allen, Glenn Robinson and Sam Cassell missed the 2001 Finals by one game. And even the “Fear The Deer” surprise late in 2009-10.
That’s why this “Cheer The Future” season-ticket scheme matters not just as a way to sell tickets but to get those buyers into the building.
“We believe the best way to build our fan base and increase attendance is to show them our young, exciting team,” Ted Loehrke, the Bucks’ senior vice president and chief revenue officer, said by phone Thursday. “The whole concept is to re-introduce the Bucks to Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin, especially young professionals and college students.”
The prices and seat locations should fit their budgets, especially if they max out the benefits. It works like this: Fans are required to commit to a two-season purchase, with discounts offered on the second year. Those who attend at least 30 games will get their 2015-16 tickets at half price. If they use tickets this season at least 35 times, the discount grows to 75 percent. And those who attend all 40 Milwaukee home games (the team plays a designated home game at London’s O2 Arena on Jan. 15 vs. New York) will get their same tickets next season for free.
The team set aside 500 seats for the promotion, which runs through Sunday. Loehrke said the response has been strong, with the remaining seats and the deadline pretty much in synch.
NBA teams have marketed hard-to-sell seats via various gimmicks. For instance, Minnesota used a “pay the pick” plan in which fans paid a per-ticket price equal to the team’s lottery position (the Wolves drafted fourth, so those seats cost $4 each). Other clubs have offered future discounts. But Loehrke said the Bucks were unaware of any team bundling purchase, attendance and discount together like this.
Milwaukee already has had an eventful offseason, starting with Kohl’s sale of the franchise to billionaire investors Wes Edens and Marc Lasry for a whopping $550 million. Parker’s selection and presentation were well-received, and the startling hire of Jason Kidd as coach – after some un-Milwaukee-like machinations behind GM John Hammond‘s back to oust Drew – generated headlines, too.
The continued development of last season’s lottery pick, Greek phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo, and 2012 first-rounder John Henson, along with some presumed face-saving resurgences by Larry Sanders, O.J. Mayo and Ersan Ilaysova are added reasons for optimism in 2014-15.
“There’s been a buzz around the team this summer unlike any we’ve seen in recent history,” Loehrke said.
Edens and Lasry are eager to energize the Bradley Center, too, to win over local and state officials and the citizens overall to their quest for a new, partially public-financed downtown arena. Sports teams know that seats, like unused hotel rooms, are an expiring asset. The Bucks want those in their aging building to be very expiring.
Mostly, though, they want them filled. This season and next.