Bucks can afford $60 million for 3 coaches. Why are taxpayers on hook for Fiserv? | Opinion

Milwaukee Bucks general manager Jon Horst, left, and Milwaukee Bucks head coach Doc Rivers speak at a news conference Jan. 27 at Fiserv Forum. The 62-year-old Marquette University alumnus became the 18th head coach in franchise history on Friday, after signing a multi-year deal.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

As the Milwaukee Bucks return to Fiserv Forum Thursday night for their first home game under new head coach Doc Rivers, I'm wondering how you feel about how the team is spending their, err, your money?

If you're keeping track, the team has fired two coaches in eight months and recently agreed to pay Rivers, a former Marquette University men’s basketball star and longtime NBA coach and announcer, $40 million to get the team over the hump. So far, that is proving a difficult climb, with the team 1-4 under his tenure.

The team, one of the league’s smallest franchises, has three head coaches on its payroll, including Adrian Griffin, who was let go Jan. 24, and Mike Budenholzer, who was fired last May. By my estimates, that’s about $60 million for head coaches – two no longer affiliated with the team.

Bucks’ general manager Jon Horst said the firing of Griffin was a “difficult decision to make during the season.” It also must be a difficult financial decision for the Bucks and taxpayers looking at how the team is spending money.

Interestingly, the Bucks – whom I love – have $60 million to spend on three head coaches, yet taxpayers are still on the hook for the $250 million over 30 years for the arena the team plays at, Fiserv Forum.

How do you feel about that $250 million arena tax?

I know some of you may be wondering why I’m bringing up the cost of Fiserv Forum at this stage of the game. You can argue that the Bucks would not have become NBA champions without a new arena built with $250 million of public money. Heck, I even argued for a new arena in 2011.

I agree that the Bucks would probably be playing in Seattle or elsewhere had it not been for Fiserv, but it can also be argued that the owners had the money to cover the entire cost of Fiserv, even if taxpayers didn’t put in a dime.

No one got out to look. Her family might have their own 'what-ifs' about the evening she froze to death

The cost of Fiserv Forum was $524 million. About $250 million came from taxpayers in various forms, $174 million from the team’s owners, and $100 million from its former owner, the late Sen. Herb Kohl, who saved the team from leaving the city twice.

While some complained about the money invested by taxpayers, it seemed like a good deal to keep the team in Milwaukee, and Fiserv sparked a rebirth of a downtown that needed a boost.

The Bradley Center was outdated and looked good on the outside, but it was time for something new. Just the same, as a long-time Bucks ticketholder at the Bradley Center, I sat through the good and bad, but it was affordable. The higher-priced tickets, parking, and food prices have priced me and others out today. I only go to games when someone offers me free tickets with excellent seats.

Yet, when the Bucks came to taxpayers, I supported the tax. I thought by doing so, the growth from a brand-new arena would spread north toward our central city. That growth has been slower than expected and remains a missed shot.

Did we need a new arena? Yes. Have we attracted events and concerts we otherwise wouldn’t have? Absolutely.

But with a new Milwaukee city and county sales tax, and taxpayers on the hook for $500 million in stadium improvements for the multi-millionaire owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, it's not hard to feel both burned and overburdened.

Black people don't swim? Milwaukee man who called out that hogwash to get honor.

And for every bit of breathless boosterism for pro-sports stadiums we'll endure this Super Bowl week in Las Vegas, there's cautionary tales. Consider the Wall Street Journal's reporting on the home of the San Francisco 49ers, Levi's Stadium: "Santa Clara says the 49ers, who will head to the Super Bowl ... haven’t lived up to their financial promises. The team says it has delivered billions."

Bucks could pay public share and still be $3 billion franchise

Looking at how the Bucks recently played musical chairs with their head coaching spot would make one consider how much more they could contribute to their cause.

If you don’t think so, consider this. Statista, a website that looks at the value of an NBA franchise, said in 2016, the Bucks were valued at $675 million. In 2023, the team was valued at $3.2 billion. In other words, the Bucks’ ownership could pay off the $250 million placed on taxpayers and still be a $3 billion franchise.

The Bucks ownership said they had to make the coaching moves because the clock is ticking. That same clock is ticking on taxpayers. When the Bucks come to fans – which they will in the future – and say they need a new arena or they may move, taxpayers need to see their books, and if the franchise is in the black, then we need to tell them to pay for it.

Email James Causey at jcausey@jrn.com; follow him at X@jecausey.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Fiserv is nicer but unaffordable – just like Milwaukee's tax burden