As the Milwaukee Bucks push for what would be their first NBA championship since 1971, and only their second since the team’s founding in 1968, they’re also winning on another score: Their new arena, Fiserv Forum, is not only an outstanding place to see a game, it’s also one of the most innovative arenas in the country, featuring updates in technology, seating, food service and design generally. For fans, it’s a great experience. For the Bucks, it’s a way to rebrand their team and find new ways to turn a profit.
Fiserv Forum, which opened with a concert by the Killers last August, is part of a turnaround for the Bucks’ franchise since its 2014 purchase by an investment group led by private equity investors Marc Lasry, Jamie Dimon and Wes Edens. Replacing the aging Bradley Center, which the Bucks had been playing in since 1988, Fiserv was built with a mixture of public and private money for about $500 million. It’s the anchor for the redevelopment of about 30 acres of Milwaukee that the Bucks’ owners purchased along with the team.
Worth asked Bucks president Peter Feigin to walk us through Fiserv and tell us, in his words, the thinking behind the pictures.
We wanted Fiserv to be a special destination and unlike any arena that’s been built before. It’s got the wave that blends into the landscape of Milwaukee, and where you see the starters on the façade, that’s a patinaed zinc exterior. On the left, that’s a 100-foot-high glass curtain wall.
The slogan “Fear the Deer” is something we resurrected. We want to be competitive, fierce—that’s a core attribute of the team—redefining your friendly backyard deer in a big way. We had the trademark and we had the slogan and it had some equity and we loved it, so we resurrected it.
This photo shows you the landscape and the expanse of what we’ve created. We want to activate this area as much as we want to activate inside the arena. So we’re doing outdoor concerts, farmers markets, a Halloween fest, a Bloody Mary fest. The Bloody Mary Festival is a four-day festival of Bloody Marys that we created—in Milwaukee a Bloody Mary is religious. It’s all about the accoutrement that people put on top of them—not just pickles, not just olives, not just bacon. Some people put full chickens on top of them, hamburgers—it’s an art form. We’re expecting 100,000 people to come through in a three-to-four-day period.
This is an early view of the plaza, on the west side of the Milwaukee River, as seen from the arena—the first developments. Downtown has traditionally been on the east side of the river, and a central plaza really doesn’t exist in Milwaukee. So the question for us was, how do we take that neighborhood and fill it with places to live, places to work, places to play?
This is the main atrium. It’s kind of that “wow” atrium entryway, where everybody can see and everybody can be seen. It talks to the significance of the building—it’s physical and it’s conceptual, and how cool is it to watch people as you go up vertical transportation? It sets the tone.
Miller is our official beer—MillerCoors—but we did not want to be a billboard company. What we wanted to do is to really integrate product placement with our sponsors. Sometimes you see arena bars that just don’t make sense in general spaces. We customized four anchor bars around the arena within the general design of the building. Miller is a Milwaukee beer—they still have the brewery in Miller Valley [in Milwaukee]. That was important to us. We sourced over 85 percent of the building material—prefab steel, precast cement, art from local artists—from the state of Wisconsin.
We’ve got a crazy group of gearheads, including myself, who really care about great design and leveraging licensed product in a big way. So as we built our brand, all the extensions, we built a 6,000 square foot store. It’s really helped us. We’re now the fifth most popular brand [in the NBA] and Giannis [Antetokounmpo] is the third most popular jersey in the league. In the store, you see a much more built-out children’s section, a much more built-out women’s section, and it’s worked—people really like nice gear.
These are our club lounges. We designed them with very simple but very high-end finishes—it’s almost livable. There are six of these—you’re seeing them without their dividers. Each accommodates 30 people, so it’s a product that you could rent out for 180 people.
This is the view from center court. It’s a little hard to tell from that perspective, but this bowl is almost cozy. You’ve got 10,000 people down low, 6,000 people up high. You have one of the coolest, most technologically advanced surface boards that exists in arena, but it’s not as big as some—it’s about keeping the game on the court versus making it a sports bar. Have we changed the Bucks logo? We did a little bit of transition on the brand in 2015 and did a complete rebrand across everything. This integrates the real colors of the Bucks’ [traditional] green, but it’s a little fiercer look with a much larger rack. You can see, under its chin, the Milwaukee “M.” It’s very clean. I wouldn’t call us minimalists, but we’re very much about the simplicity of things. The treatment works extremely well on apparel and obviously things like basketball courts.
We wanted to change the paradigm of arenas, where everyone sitting upstairs is dying to move downstairs to eat. How do you make it tribal, make people feel some kind of ownership, and make those least expensive tickets cool? So we created the Southside Market on the upper concourse. It’s a way in which we serve everything at every level—poke bowls, custom grilled cheese, the Brat[wurst] Shack, a candy store. We wanted to get people moving up to explore the building.
We had this opportunity to do something which didn’t really exist in Wisconsin sports entertainment, to redefine high-end hospitality. We wanted to change the way we sell events and the way we treat customers—we wanted them to be so wowed by the experience that they would inevitably come back. Everything is in the details. So we hired people from the high-end hotel business to help—from Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton and Kimpton.
This is the BMO Club, the highest-end hospitality club for patrons who own tickets in the first four rows of seating, where all you can eat and drink are loaded in your ticket price. There’s a great value to that—people love “all you can eat.” You just have to fulfill at a high level—the expectations are high. The only time it doesn’t work is if the provider goes down on food quality.
This is the restaurant outside the West Bend Lofts on the premium level, which accommodates about 200 people. There are 33 lofts, equipped for four, six or eight people. They require a five-year commitment, and they get a corresponding table outside. It’s the only sit-down dining in the arena.
We thought about everything, including making our bathrooms more than just functional, but also upscale. So we thought about, what are you going to do with your beer when you’re standing at the urinal? And how can you give men a little privacy while they’re going to the bathroom?
We have the largest commercial kitchen in the state of Wisconsin, built to accommodate not just the arena but private events, events in the plaza, in a very big way. In the old arena, the food was about hotdogs, hamburgers, chicken tenders. Here, we’ve got a kitchen equipped with a smoker, doing our own barbecue. It’s really about where the shrimp cocktail is as important as the hotdog.
The pre-game fireballs are all about the pomp and circumstance. From lasers to WiFi, the arena is built as the greatest high-end production studio you can imagine. From pyrotechnics to video to audio to the ability to dim the entire house and light the entire house, this was all designed to put on a show unlike anything else.