Commentary: Fiserv Forum a huge success

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:09 pm

Less than a year since it opened, Fiserv Forum, the new arena in downtown Milwaukee, is clearly a huge success.

State and local taxpayers contributed $250 million for the $524 million arena. What did we get for that investment?

The arena has obviously been a big hit for the Milwaukee Bucks, who had the best regular season in the NBA. The Bucks’ average home attendance of 17,602 this season exceeded the arena’s seating capacity of 17,500.

Marquette University’s men’s basketball team also had a good first season at the arena and had huge crowds for its biggest games.

Fiserv Forum was designed primarily for basketball, so its seating configuration brings fans closer to the court for Bucks and Marquette games than the BMO Harris Bradley Center, which was primarily designed for hockey. The spectator experience at Fiserv Forum is superior to the Bradley Center in every way, including sightlines, amenities, and food and beverage offerings.

But the arena’s biggest impact on the Milwaukee entertainment scene has been its ability to attract big-time concerts. So far, 48 concerts, shows and special events have been announced for the venue, including 40 within its first 12 months of operation. By comparison, the Bradley Center hosted 21 concerts during its busiest fiscal year.

Huge names that have already played Fiserv Forum include: Justin Timberlake, Maroon 5, Metallica, Bob Seger, Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles. The arena has immediately become the premier entertainment venue in Wisconsin. It ranked 59th on Pollstar’s list of the top 100 arenas in the world for concert ticket sales for shows held between Nov. 22 and Feb. 20.

Next year, Fiserv Forum will host one of the biggest events in Milwaukee’s history: the 2020 Democratic National Convention. There is no way a national political convention would have come to the aging Bradley Center. The economic impact of the DNC on the Milwaukee area’s economy is estimated at $200 million.

With the Fiserv Forum itself a clear success, the next thing to watch is the broader impact it is making on downtown Milwaukee. In front of the arena, the Bucks have created a plaza and an entertainment block. The Bucks want this to be the community’s gathering place. The plaza has been used for several events, including the Milwaukee Marathon and a Christkindlmarket. This summer, it will host fitness classes and outdoor movies.

The entertainment block is filled with several cool new bar/restaurants. But will those establishments complement or cannibalize the nearby Old World Third Street and Water Street bar districts? The full impact of the entertainment block remains to be seen.

It will also be interesting to see if the Bucks can attract the additional development they envision for 30 acres around the arena, dubbed the Deer District.

With so much happening in and around the arena, perhaps its neighborhood will become the next hot spot for office relocations.

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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.