Admirals sign 10-year lease to play at UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena

Deal includes $6.3 million in upgrades to arena

UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:14 pm

The Milwaukee Admirals hockey team and the Wisconsin Center District have come to an agreement to move the team to the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.

UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena
UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena

The Admirals will sign a 10-year lease this week, in a move that is expected to generate approximately $500,000 to $750,000 annually in new income for the Wisconsin Center District.

In return, the district will invest $4.3 million and the Admirals will invest $2 million in upgrades to the 66-year-old arena. Improvements include enhances to the concession areas, concourses and upgrading locker rooms to meet American Hockey League hockey standards.

The minor league hockey team now plays at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. The plans for the new Bucks arena don’t include the hockey team.

Seating in the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, which can hold 9,652 spectators for hockey, will also be reconfigured for quicker turn around so scheduling can accommodate both the Admirals and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s men’s basketball team.

Russ Staerkel, president and chief operating officer of the Wisconsin Center District, said the renovations will be the most significant in the arena’s history.  But they won’t be the most expensive. According to the arena’s website, $10.5 million in renovations were completed in 1998. Those included a new video scoreboard, totally-refurbished seats, improved access for people with disabilities, improved concession stands, new floors and finishes, new catwalks, better lighting and improved HVAC.  In 2000, ice-making ability was restored to the arena.

“This agreement is a win for taxpayers, a win for the Admirals, a win for the district, and a win for downtown Milwaukee,” said WCD Board Chairman Scott Neitzel. “With the new revenue and economic activity generated by this partnership, we are one step closer to realizing an exciting vision for the future of the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena and downtown as a whole.”

The district owns and operates the Wisconsin Center convention center, the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena and the Milwaukee Theatre. It will also be responsible for the new Milwaukee Bucks arena once it is built.

The Admirals will play approximately 38 events at the arena per year, including exhibition games, regular season games and play-off games, as well as collegiate and high school hockey events and tournaments.

The 10-year lease includes an optional five-year extension. In years one through five, the Wisconsin Center District will receive a license fee of $1,500 and $2,500 for weeknight and weekend games, respectively.

During years six through 10, the fee increases to $1,800 to $3,000 for weeknight and weekend games.

The district will receive $2 per ticket for years one through five and $2.50 per ticket for years six through 10. There is a revenue sharing opportunity for the Admirals if attendance benchmarks are met. For example, the team will receive up to 41 percent of concession revenue if attendance is 5,000 or more.

Average attendance at an Admirals game is 5,700, Staerkel said.

The Admirals will get 75 percent of all team merchandise, with the exception of three fan days per year, where the team will receive 100 percent.

The district will keep all permanent advertising rights and revenue and naming rights and revenue.

In June 2014, UWM signed a $3.4 million naming rights deal for the arena, re-branding it from the U.S. Cellular Arena to the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena. UWM also has the right of first refusal when it comes to scheduling games, Neitzel said.

UWM and the Admirals are still working on their fall schedules and Neitzel said he is confident the teams will work together on key dates. The Milwaukee Wave soccer team, the Tripoli Shrine Circus and the Brewcity Bruisers also host events at the arena.

“Today marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter for our franchise and our fans,” Harris Turer, governor and CEO of the Milwaukee Admirals, said in a written statement. “As an organization, we also look forward to working with the WCD to enhance the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena which will create a great home ice advantage for our players and our fans.”

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