Former Bucks exec suing team over naming rights commission

Jason Hartlund left team for job with Brewers before deal was final

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A former Milwaukee Bucks executive responsible for securing major sponsorship deals at the Fiserv Forum is suing the team, alleging he has not been paid commissions on the arena naming rights deal and other sponsorship deals.

Jason Hartlund

Jason Hartlund filed the lawsuit Friday in Milwaukee County Circuit Court. The complaint names the Bucks, along with team executives Matthew Pazaras and Patrick McDonough. Pazaras is senior vice president of business development and strategy and McDonough is chief financial officer.

Hartlund left the Bucks in April 2018 to rejoin the Milwaukee Brewers as chief revenue officer. The naming rights deal with Brookfield-based financial technology firm Fiserv Inc. was not announced until July 2018. According to the complaint, Hartlund had secured a verbal agreement for the naming rights in January 2018.

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He claims he is eligible for damages to be determined at trial. According to an employment agreement included in the complaint, Hartlund could be eligible for a 2.25 percent commission on the first year of the naming rights deal with the percentage decreasing in subsequent years. The Bucks and Fiserv eventually reached a 25-year deal to name the new arena Fiserv Forum.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed and the complaint does not seek a specific damage amount.

Barry Baum, chief communications officer for the Bucks, said in a statement the lawsuit “is without any merit, factually or legally, and we are disappointed that he chose to pursue it.”

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Hartlund joined the Bucks in October 2015 as managing director, new arena after spending a decade with the Brewers. According to the complaint, Bucks president Peter Feigin first met with Hartlund in December 2014 about potentially joining the team.

Fiserv Forum

The complaint says Hartlund was concerned about leaving his jobs while funding for the new arena was still up in the air. Once funding was in place he agreed to come on board, accepting a position with a $250,000 salary plus opportunities for commissions and bonuses.

In March 2016, Hartlund secured a meeting to discuss naming rights with Fiserv chief executive officer Jeffrey Yabuki by cold calling the company’s corporate office, according to the complaint. At some point during their discussions, Yabuki lamented that the majority owners of the Bucks had not reached out to him about a potential minority interest in the team.

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The Bucks announced a number of local community and business leaders as minority owners in 2014 and have since added others to the group, including Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

By the time Hartlund and Yabuki were discussing naming rights, the team had run up against a NBA limit on the number of minority owners. While their talks continued, the Bucks decided sometime in the second half of 2017 that a deal was not likely to come together with Fiserv.

The complaint says Feigin and Pazaras started negotiating with Foxconn Technology Group as a potential alternative. The Taiwanese technology giant had announced plans for a $10 billion Wisconsin plant in July 2017.

Among the issues in the Foxconn negotiations was company chairman Terry Gou’s interest in taking a minority stake in ownership. Feigin asked for and was granted a waiver to the minority ownership limit by the NBA. He told Hartlund the same waiver would apply to Yabuki or Fiserv, according to the complaint.

While the Bucks began exploring using an outside consultant to secure naming rights for the arena, the complaint says Hartlund secured a term sheet from Fiserv by Dec. 31, 2017 and the two sides had a verbal agreement in place by January 2018.

Finalizing the agreement, however, would take several more months. In the meantime, Milwaukee Brewers president of business operations Rick Schlesinger approached Hartlund about returning to the team as chief revenue officer in February 2018.

The complaint says Hartlund told Feigin about the opportunity with the Brewers in March 2018, but also said finalizing the Fiserv deal was his priority.

In April, Hartlund met with Pazaras and McDonough to discuss his departure and requested to be compensated for his role in the Fiserv naming rights.

Pazaras and McDonough allegedly represented to Hartlund that the Bucks would “do the right thing,” the complaint says. The trio allegedly discussed whether Hartlund would receive payments in installments or a lump-sum. Hartlund sought a written agreement, but Pazaras said that would not be possible until the Fiserv deal was finalized.

Hartlund voluntarily ended his employment with the Bucks on April 20, 2018, the complaint says.

After the Fiserv deal was announced in July 2018, Hartlund reached out to the team to discuss his commission. McDonough directed him to talk to Pazaras or Feigin. According to the complaint, Feigin told Hartlund in September 2018 the team had decided against paying him any commission.

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