NBA's Milwaukee Bucks are seeking $4 million annually for the Deer District property's naming rights

Key Points
  • The defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks are looking to cash in on the real estate around Fiserv Forum.
  • The team is seeking $4 million annually for real estate naming rights for its plaza within Deer District area, which became a popular spot during the team's recent playoff runs.
  • Over the years, more professional sports clubs have added real estate revenue to leverage the popularity of their brands.
Milwaukee Bucks Deer District real estate project.
Source: Milwaukee Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks, in their quest to repeat as NBA champions, this weekend will begin playing the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Off the court, the team is seeking $4 million annually for entitlement rights to its plaza inside Deer District, a 30-acre property that sits outside their arena.

In an interview with CNBC, Bucks President Peter Feigin described the naming rights asset as obtaining keys to "a city that we've created within the state of Wisconsin." The Deer District is part of the team's economic development plan, to which taxpayers contributed $250 million. And the project also landed the Bucks their over $500 million arena, which opened in 2018.

The Bucks ownership group includes high-profile investors Marc Lasry, Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan. The consortium purchased the franchise for $550 million in 2014. It's now worth $1.9 billion, up slightly from $1.62 billion in 2020, according to Forbes.

The Bucks are counting on the Deer District to help deliver more revenue outside the NBA.

"What pro teams are now understating is – you create the mothership and have it fueled by an NBA team that is successful, and then raise the waters around you," said Feigin, who also serves as president of the team's arena, Fiserv Forum.

Renderings of the apartment building at Deer District in Milwaukee
Source: Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks are landlords

Over the years, more professional sports clubs have added real estate revenue to leverage the popularity of their brands.

The Golden State Warriors operate Chase Towers, the commercial and residential buildings outside Chase Center. That helped grow their valuation to $5.6 billion, up from more than $3 billion before the pandemic. Los Angeles Clippers owner and former Microsoft CEO Steve Baller is moving his team to Inglewood and will leverage real estate around the $1.2 billion Intuit Dome. That could enhance the Clippers' worth.

In Major League Baseball, the Atlanta Braves created The Battery Atlanta, an entertainment and residential area. The Ricketts Family, which owns the Chicago Cubs, also owns real estate surrounding the historic Wrigley Field. NFL team owner Jerry Jones created "The Star" – a 91-acre mixed-use development in Frisco, Texas, where the Cowboys practice.

Team-driven real estate projects are cities within cities, where people "live, work and play," said Jessi Sanchez, the senior vice president of sports consulting and valuation firm Playfly Premier Partnerships. The company advised the Atlanta Falcons with naming rights around Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Owners are looking to make more money from people wanting to be around live sports events, even if they're not inside arenas, Sanchez said. "They're real estate developers now," he said. "They are no longer just a sports team."

Sanchez compared Deer District to the Cubs' entertainment district "Gallagher Way." The MLB team sold entitlement naming rights to the global insurance company Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. which trades on the New York Stock Exchange.

Renderings of the apartment building at Deer District in Milwaukee
Source: Milwaukee Bucks

Feigin, the Bucks executive, said his team would "leverage opportunities to generate more revenue" with tenants, including a supermarket, pharmacy and a gym. High-end apartments are part of the plan, and Marriott has committed to a hotel scheduled to open in 2023.

"We're full swing into development," Feigin said. "We've got a hotel that's a third way done. We're thinking about other tenets. We're going to have people work there and more people living there."

What's in it for business partners? 

Sanchez said the Bucks' asking price for naming rights could align with the marketplace, depending on the exposure package. The suggested deal terms should be at least 10 years, as he projected it would take sponsors half that time to build on the rights.

Sanchez added companies receive "multiple touchpoints" because the mini-cities attract more than sports consumers but "health and wellness [consumer] to someone that loves entertainment," he said. 

Another selling point for the Bucks is how often they're on national TV. The Deer District appeared on Disney's ABC network during the Finals. That exposure "equates to impression and value" Feigin said, noting the over 60,000 people who occupied the Deer District to watch NBA games outside. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks celebrates during Game Six of the 2021 NBA Finals on July 20, 2021 at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Copyright 2021 NBAE.
David Sherman | National Basketball Association | Getty Images

But the Bucks will need to keep winning to make this asset attractive. In the NBA, winning dynasties attract top business. It's the reason the Warriors, who have returned to their title-contending ways, are on the verge of becoming the NBA's top valued franchise, surpassing $700 million in revenue in 2022. The Bucks have an asset that should help them keep over the years, too: 27-year-old superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, a two-time regular season MVP and last year's finals MVP.

"Here's what a championship team and organization looks like," Feigin said. "We're on an upswing about what our narrative is and what our results are."

He said the Bucks experienced an uptick in business inquiries since July 2021, the month after they won the championship, but didn't discuss specifics. The team did add Motorola as its jersey patch partner after that company walked away from the Brooklyn Nets, who were just swept by the Celtics.

"You want the winning to be your accelerant in a big way," Feigin said. "These are the moments to leverage it."

The Bucks play the Celtics on Sunday in game one of their best-of-7 series.