Milwaukee Wave cancels upcoming season

No agreement made in time with Wisconsin Center District to allow fan attendance

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The Milwaukee Wave has canceled its 2020-21 season due to questions about hosting fans for home games at UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The men’s professional soccer franchise said Monday that it was unable to reach an agreement with the Wisconsin Center District to use the Panther Arena, the team’s home turf since 2003. WCD is the operating arm of the arena, as well as the Wisconsin Center and Miller High Life Theatre, all located in downtown Milwaukee.

The Wave is backing out as top dogs in the 17-team North American Major Arena Soccer League. After winning the MASL championship in 2019, the team was expected to defend its title this year, but the regular season was cut short in mid-March due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

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“There’s a lot of uncertainty as far as when and if the Milwaukee Health Department will allow attendance at live sports events, and, if so, how many people can safely share a space,” said Mike Zimmerman, owner of The Wave and CEO of Franklin-based ROC Ventures. 

Unlike major league sports teams, which have relied primarily on TV revenue to sustain their business while ticket sales are on hold, The Wave’s business model is heavily reliant on in-person fan attendance.

In accordance with Phase 4.1 of the City of Milwaukee’s reopening plan, events at the Panther Arena are capped at 250 people. Ideally, the franchise needs closer to 4,000 fans in attendance, said Zimmerman. And WCD wasn’t able to provide a timeline beyond Jan. 1 for opening the venue at The Wave’s desired capacity.

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“The bottom line for sports entertainment is you have to be able to sell tickets and provide advance group sales opportunities in order to ‘feed the beast,’” he said. “We also need a schedule and the ability to start selling 90 days in advance. Right now, there is too much uncertainty to accomplish any of that.”

WCD’s recently approved 2021 budget assumes there won’t be any public events held at the Panther Arena until next fall, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

That timeline could impact the three other teams that call the venue home: UW-Panthers men’s basketball, Milwaukee Admirals professional hockey, and the Brewcity Bruisers amateur roller derby league.

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