Big shot: Peter Feigin is CEO of the Year

BizTimes Best in Business 2015

Feigin worked hard to win approval of public financing for a new arena.

In April 2014, Herb Kohl agreed to sell the Milwaukee Bucks to Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry, who later added Jamie Dinan as a major co-owner and several other minority owners.

Feigin worked hard to win approval of public financing for a new arena.
Feigin worked hard to win approval of public financing for a new arena.

In the fall of 2014, the new Bucks ownership group hired Peter Feigin, a former New York Knicks executive, to run the day-to-day business as president of the Bucks.

With the Bucks’ primary owners living in New York, Feigin became the public face of the organization, leading a complete rebranding effort and spearheading the initiative to build a new arena, which the NBA said was necessary for the Bucks to remain in Milwaukee.

“Make no bones about it, I am the head salesperson of the organization,” Feigin said.

Feigin accomplished a ton for the Bucks in 2015. He navigated a treacherous political process to receive approval for $250 million in public funds for the $500 million arena project (Kohl and the new owners will pay the remaining cost). The rebranding of the Bucks, which included new colors, uniforms and logos, was aided by the team’s surprising appearance in the playoffs last season, which helped boost TV ratings and attendance.

For all he accomplished this year, Feigin is the BizTimes Best in Business 2015 CEO of the Year.

Convincing state and local politicians to support public funding for a new arena for the Bucks was no easy task. Feigin had to sell them on how the project would benefit the city, county and state.

“The best advice I got was from (Bob Harlan), the former president of the (Green Bay) Packers,” Feigin said. “He said, ‘There will be days when you go home and you look at your wife and say, “This is over. This isn’t going to happen.” Those are important days. They are going to happen, many of them. Wake up the next morning knowing that you are going to have solutions.’ That comment was so true and it really was what I remembered through every chapter (of the political process).”

The arena funding package was approved by bipartisan votes in the state Assembly and the state Senate, and an overwhelming vote of the Milwaukee Common Council. The public funding for the project will be split among the state, the city, Milwaukee County and the Wisconsin Center District. A ticket surcharge will also help pay for the project.

“It was almost a surreal experience in balancing the politics of city, state and county, keeping consistency and really communicating the vision of how and why, and how good the transformation of this city would be with the Bucks being the catalyst for it,” Feigin said.

The Bucks still need to finalize a lease agreement, development agreement and non-relocation agreement with the Wisconsin Center District. The organization also needs to get city approval for detailed plans for the arena and $500 million in ancillary development the Bucks owners plan around the arena. Feigin is leading those efforts.

Construction for the arena, a new practice facility, a new parking structure, a public plaza and a “live block” development could begin next spring and be complete in time for the 2018-’19 NBA season.

The Bucks owners envision a 27-acre mixed-use development. It could take 10 years to fully build that out. Interest from potential tenants and development partners for the ancillary development has been “tremendous,” Feigin said.

“We are eager and excited to accelerate development with market demand on commercial and residential and working hard to sell and get that done,” he said. “The key is making sure people live and work in the area around the arena. If they don’t live and work in the area, (the arena district) doesn’t work.”

To help sell the public on the arena project, and on the Bucks themselves, Feigin spoke at numerous business and civic events this year. If you didn’t see Feigin speak at an event, you weren’t trying very hard to do so, because he was everywhere.

“When we put together a strategy with ownership, it was very important to have a human face with this team, and I was the designated leader,” Feigin said. “I am constantly reinforcing reasons you want to be attracted to (the Bucks). This is a market where you’ve got to build trust and you’ve got to build equity. I’m not from Milwaukee and I’m not from Wisconsin, so the ability to make personal connections, that ability to have people hear me talk and, more importantly, talk the talk and walk the walk, is a great opportunity to accelerate our growth as a brand.”

Despite the improvements made to the organization from top to bottom, there is still much more work to be done, Feigin said.

“I think we’ve had tremendous growth, (but) we’ve got an opportunity to do much, much better,” he said. “When you look at comparables in the NBA, we’re in the lower third of the metrics that really matter: attendance, season ticket holders, retail, television audience.”

The Bucks need to continue to improve on and sell their value proposition to the region’s business community, Feigin said.

“I think we’re getting there,” he said. “I think people understand we’re improving the experience in the arena. When we talk specifically about business-to-business, people have to (perceive) value in demand to use tickets and hospitality for acquisition of talent, for retention of talent, for sales hospitality. And I think we are getting there, client by client. We’ve invested a lot in the experience itself, whether it be food service, the cleanliness, the training of personnel – these are all touch points that are extremely valuable to increase the value proposition.”

Feigin says he enjoys the job and the “hospitality” of the Milwaukee community.

“There couldn’t be a more welcoming place that I’ve ever been in my life,” he said. “If people look at this job and don’t think it’s a dream come true, they don’t have a sense of reality. To have the opportunity to spearhead a reorganization of a company, a development of an arena and ancillary development…and the sky’s the limit of what we can do beyond this as we talk about media, international partnerships…we’re just starting to realize the potential.”

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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