How a New Arena For the Bucks Could Land an NHL Team in Milwaukee

Feb 2, 2015

The Milwaukee Admirals playing at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Credit Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

One of the elements of Governor Walker's proposed budget that is certain to provoke debate is his plan to fund a new sports arena in downtown Milwaukee.

The governor's budget proposal calls for the creation of a new sports and entertainment district that would oversee the arena's construction and operation. Funding for the new arena would come in part from the past and present owners of the Milwaukee Bucks, and also from a so-called "jock tax" that would essentially capture the income tax of highly paid athletes who play at the facility.

Basketball fans in Milwaukee have rallied in support of the proposed arena. But there's another fan base that just might take notice - hockey fans.

That's because Walker's announcement had ripple effects, as far away as Seattle, and the National Hockey League. Allan Muir writes about hockey in his Sports Illustrated blog, called Off the Draw. In his recent article, titled Milwaukee joins NHL expansion mix, Muir wonders if a "new multipurpose facility in a major city with a hockey background give the [NHL] a fresh option for western expansion."

The writer goes into more detail with Lake Effect's Mitch Teich.

For starters, Muir says Seattlites hoping to land a basketball team were counting on an arena effort in Milwaukee to fail, leading the Bucks to pick up stakes and move to the Pacific Northwest. That plan was the linchpin of an effort to build a new multipurpose arena in Seattle, which would make the city an ideal spot for a hockey league hoping to add teams in the west. Without a new arena, both NBA and NHL plans in Seattle are dead.

"The NHL has not gone out of its way to look into expansion, but, it is open to the idea." Muir said. "They're not going to go out and just add teams, just so that they have 16 in each conference. They want it to make sense."

Milwaukee was once thought to be a prime candidate for an NHL franchise as the BMO Harris Bradley Center was being planned. But economic forces within the pro hockey league caused that plan to fizzle out.

Today, Muir says Milwaukee would still be a darkhorse for NHL expansion. But he thinks an NHL team would help solidify the economics of a new arena, more than the city's current hockey team, the minor-league Milwaukee Admirals.

"Having a second anchor tenant, like the NHL, has proven to be a very successful business model in many other towns," Muir says. "So what you have is really an opportunity, more than anything else."