“Well I wasn’t going to live forever. I’ve approached a time in my life when I have had to think about to think about, ‘How do we approach the idea of succession?” And then, that was brought to a head by the need for a new building and the fact that that’s a project over several years that doesn’t get done in a short time.” – Herb Kohl
Senator Herb Kohl has entered into a written agreement to transfer full ownership of the Bucks to Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry for a price of $550 million, pending league approval. The deal that was announced today at a press conference held at the West Atrium of the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
In addition, Kohl and the new owners have pledged a total of $200 million dollars toward the cost of building a new arena in Milwaukee, with Kohl committing to a $100 million “gift” and the new owners agreeing to contribute a similar amount.
The deal is contingent on the approval of the NBA’s Board of Governors, which is slated to meet Thursday and Friday. During his time at the podium, Edens hinted that the decision could come as soon as tomorrow.
Kohl and the new owners vouched for each other’s respective basketball fandoms. On Kohl’s dedication to the Bucks, Edens said, “He’s a crazed Bucks fan. He’s all about the team and the community and winning. He’s been a terrific inspiration as we’ve gone through this process and we couldn’t be happier.” In return, Kohl said that Lasry and Edens “shared my love of the game and shared my commitment to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee.”
In a written statement, Steve Greenberg, of the firm Allen and Company, said that numerous parties expressed interest. Specifically, he said that there were “numerous parties interested in partnering with Senator Kohl. Many others preferred to bid for the entire franchise. We received 9 such bids, all of which we vetted with Senator Kohl.”
“I’m very optimistic, even more so than I can express, about the future of basketball in this city. We’ve been a fixture for 47 years and through good times and bad times we’ve endured.” – Kohl on the future of the Bucks in Milwaukee
Of course, the future of the Bucks in Milwaukee still hinges on the construction of a new arena. Estimates from this day on the cost of a new arena seemed to be in the range of $400 to $425 million, meaning that about half the cost of a new arena would need to come from somewhere else. Kohl noted that he would seek other non-public sources of funding, which while useful, likely would not cover but a small fraction of the remaining funds needed.
Kohl said that Lasry and Edens were the right men to lead the job.
“They understand and we’ve come to agree, that in order to keep our franchise here, we need to get to a 21st century sports and entertainment center in a timely manner,” he said. “These two men are the right people and the right fit at the right time.”
He emphasized and repeated that phrase, “right people and the right fit at the right time” a few times after the first time he said it too. He seemed to want everyone to understand how much he put into this sale and how thoroughly he attempted to vet potential buyers before deciding to sell to Edens and Lasry. Edens helped reiterate that feeling when he was asked how the pair convinced Kohl they were committed to Milwaukee.
“That’s why it took four months and not four days,” he said with a smile.
Edens and Lasry both mentioned their past business success as evidence that they would be successful in leading the team to both a new arena and to overall success in the NBA.
“We have a big vision for the Bucks,” said Eden, “as we’ve had with our own businesses.” Lasry noted that he and Edens have “a strong desire, I think at times an insane desire to succeed.” Given the challenges of procuring public funds and the possibly bigger struggle of redirecting the 15-66 Bucks, they will need it.
Edens cited both the success of the Brewers and Packers, as well as the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement as evidence that the Bucks could be successful in Milwaukee.
Many of the public officials who will be part of the arena funding issue were at hand, and they were universally positive on the day when it was easiest to be that way. Mayor Tom Barrett said of the press conference, “This is more like a revival meeting. We should be shouting from the rooftops, because this is a game changer for the entire debate.”
Other officials, such as president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce Tim Sheehy, shared the same optimism, but with an eye toward pressing forward in the arena discussion with a steely determination.
“I have this message to the rest of the world: When somebody invests $550 million in your market, take note,” he said. “We are going to be successful going forward.”
“Thanks for being you. And thanks for giving us a lifetime of service.” – Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele to Kohl
Despite all the problems inherent in funding a new arena, and despite all the frustrations of struggling to a 1066-1263 record in the 29 full seasons since Kohl took ownership, the overriding sentiment of the day was one of gratitude for Kohl taking the big steps needed toward keeping the team in Milwaukee. He sold with the idea of making succession easier. He limited the search to parties who would keep in team in town. He donated $100 million toward funding the new arena. For better or for worse, Herb Kohl is the Bucks and the Bucks are Herb Kohl.