The new president of the Milwaukee Bucks, Peter Feigin, has been on the job for just over a month. He has plenty to do. The franchise has new owners, a new coach and a promising young roster. Feigin has to rebuild the brand of the Bucks, which has been beaten down by years of losing. On top of that, he is involved in the plans for a new arena, which the NBA says is necessary for the team to stay in Milwaukee.
Feigin describes himself as a “brand and revenue guy” with an extensive background in marketing and sales. He worked for the New York Knicks from 1998 to 2004, first as director of marketing partnerships, then director of marketing and business development and then vice president of marketing.
Prior to coming to Milwaukee, he was chief marketing officer and chief revenue officer for Deluxe Entertainment Services Group in New York. Prior to that, he was president and chief operating officer of Marquis Jet Partners Inc. He was involved in Berkshire Hathaway’s NetJets acquisition of Marquis Jet in 2010 and worked to integrate the two companies, then served as head of marketing and business development for NetJets from 2010 to 2013. Prior to his time with the Knicks, Feigin held sales and marketing positions with Six Flags Entertainment Corp.
Feigin recently talked about his new job and his plans for the Milwaukee Bucks organization with BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor Andrew Weiland. Following are portions of that interview.
BizTimes: How did you get the job as president of the Bucks?
Feigin: “Through the years I met (Bucks co-owners) Marc (Lasry) and Wes (Edens). My identical twin brother, who is a headmaster of a private school in New York City, actually taught all of their kids. And probably about nine or 10 years ago Marc started to look at the possibility of purchasing a professional team. And my brother suggested we meet. And long story short I’ve been attached to him on and off in an advisory capacity. We actually talked to Sen. (Herb) Kohl three years ago when he was looking to sell the team. And then again in December and January, I came aboard as an advisor for Marc and Wes as they took on the acquisition and for a go forward operation plan.”
BizTimes: Tell me more about your experience working with the New York Knicks.
Feigin: “Those were transformative years. That’s where you really planted the seed of what is an NBA team in the form of entertainment (with) fan engagement, retention, ticket sales, driving revenue, and how operational the business is with all of the touch points. What I mean by that is it is as important to get a foam finger in someone’s hand as it is to have clean bathrooms, condiment stands, as it is that the television production goes seamlessly.”
BizTimes: What changes are you making right away to how the Bucks do business?
Feigin: “Our No. 1 priority right away was fixing the value proposition so you as a fan, do you actually leave a game, leave a broadcast, leave the process of buying a T-shirt and feel great about it? We probably have come up short or haven’t measured that or known that. So, a big part of my mantra going forward is constant improvement. This will be every day, every week, every month, how do we improve the experience? And that disseminates across our business processes, too. How do our salespeople become true partners with sponsors? How do we engage our ticket holders so they have more traction and they are stickier with us so they renew their tickets? We’ve had a legacy of the last five years of a tremendous amount of attrition in season ticket holders and plan holders. It is extremely challenging once you lose them to get them back. We’ve got to give them a reason to get back.”
BizTimes: Any specific changes you’ve made so far to increase the value proposition of the game experience?
Feigin: “The service levels in the arena. That cascades down to the cleanliness in the bathrooms, to how quickly food service is prepared, to seat service in the club level seating, to people actually making eye contact, asking if they can help and thanking them for coming. We’ve renovated two of the major retail stores. We’ve renovated two food areas. We’re just about to announce, probably in the next few weeks, bringing in some local restaurateurs. It’s making smart decisions based on fans’ wants and needs.”
BizTimes: How will you improve your engagement with the business community? You have said the percentage of Bucks season tickets sold to businesses is way below the league average. How do you improve that?
Feigin: “First we’ve got to educate internally, so our salespeople actually have to understand the value proposition of a business owning tickets. How they get utility on those tickets. How it’s a priceless source of hospitality for clients, for awards, for incentives. I have no doubt in my mind that once we actually pitch the right story that businesses will be more than eager to invest in them. I think what we’ve been doing in the past is probably selling to individuals versus selling to companies. We have to do a much better job of pitching and engagement and sales to the business community by giving them the rationale that there is no better place to entertain your clients than a Bucks game.”
BizTimes: With new ownership, a new coach and a young team, there seems to be some buzz and excitement about the team in the community. How would you describe the reaction you are getting from your customers?
Feigin: “Overly enthusiastic, extremely motivating. On the corporate side, specifically, extremely helpful. My conversations with people are about how they can assist today and start buying group tickets for their company and start talking about and strategizing about what a sponsorship would look like. And more importantly, which is kind of refreshing here, almost every C-level meeting I have I leave with, instead of me asking for who I should talk to, with them following up and telling me, ‘Here are three other chief executives that you have to talk to that want to be involved.’”
BizTimes: How do you feel about the on-the-court product so far? The team appears to be improved.
Feigin: “We had (a game when) Jerryd Bayless and O.J. Mayo dove for a ball. The ball was actually out on us and it was going the other direction. And there was a standing ovation for the effort. I think that kind of summarizes Milwaukee. They are so excited to see a rejuvenated team. I think as long as we show constant improvement, the message will be work hard, improve and it’s all kind of on an upward slope. We are creating a road map to win a championship on the court and off the court.”
BizTimes: The elephant in the room is the arena issue. The NBA says Milwaukee needs a new arena for the NBA to remain here long term. How involved are you in that project?
BizTimes: What update can you give us on where things stand?
Feigin: “I think we’re very close to making a decision on a site. I think we’re very close to finalizing what our true plans are. We have to actually create a proposal to the city and to the state before anybody can react to it. We are moving as fast as we possibly can to get to a site decision, to get to a proposal decision and to start putting a shovel in the ground.”
BizTimes: Any timeline for all of that?
Feigin: “I think before the end of the year, or right after the end of the year, we’ll have a site. We’ll build a proposal to be laid out early in the first quarter of next year. We’re looking to create a public-private partnership. Either in late June or early July, the state budget is passed. We’re using that as a deadline that we’ll have to have a proposal and things done to be able to get it passed.”
BizTimes: Do you think this will be part of the state budget or will it be on its own?
Feigin: “I don’t know yet.”
BizTimes: So the state is where the public funds will be sought? Is there a local funding component to that?
Feigin: “I don’t think we’ve explored that yet.”
BizTimes: The owners have talked about the broader impact of this. That it will be more than just an arena, that there will be additional ancillary development. What will that involve?
Feigin: “You’ll have a multipurpose arena. You want to fill it (with events) 200 nights a year. You also want some commercial development, some residential development, and Wes is very encouraged about creating a wellness portion of it as well, beyond just a practice facility.”
BizTimes: What would the wellness component involve?
Feigin: “It’s all in the embryonic stages. I think for us it’s how are we on the cutting edge of innovation of community wellness? How do we integrate that into a practice facility?”
BizTimes: Like a fitness center?
Feigin: “No. it’s more of a physical, mental health facility…that’s aspirational.”
BizTimes: Will the Bucks owners do the development next to the arena or will that be done by other developers?
Feigin: “Oh, I think the (Bucks) owners will be deeply involved and engaged and invested in all parts of the development.”
BizTimes: What’s your take on the political dynamic of getting this done? There has already been some resistance to any kind of public support. How confident are you that this can get done?
Feigin: “I came here and I am deeply involved because I know it can get done, and I know it will get done. This obviously includes a lot of constituencies and involves a lot of people, people who are pro and people who are con. But at the end of the day this arena will be the catalyst for economic development and kind of the rebirth of the city. And I think everybody involved understands that. This is going to be a major engine for employment, for tax dollars, for traffic in the future.”
BizTimes: When Miller Park was built, Major League Baseball awarded an All-Star Game to Milwaukee as an incentive for building a new stadium. Milwaukee has not hosted an NBA All-Star Game since 1977. Is there any discussion about bringing an NBA All-Star Game to a new arena in Milwaukee?
Feigin: “It’s one of the questions we’ve asked the league. We’re looking at what the prerequisites are of an All-Star Game right now. Yes, an All-Star Game is something we have definitely discussed. We’ve planted the seed with the league that we are interested.”
BizTimes: Is it something that’s doable?
Feigin: “We’re not sure yet. Because it all depends on the development, what’s the size of the arena, what’s the development around the arena, all of those types of things.”
BizTimes: Despite the increased enthusiasm for the Bucks, there are still some skeptics who think the team is destined to move elsewhere. How committed is this ownership group to making it work in Milwaukee?
Feigin: “Unequivocally. Anyone can look at the facts. Marc and Wes and (co-owner) Jamie (Dinan) did not buy this team to move the team. These are very smart, visionary businesspeople and it’s not a good business deal for them if the team does not stay in Milwaukee. They bought this team to own it for a very long time. We are already investing just in planning, forecasting and feasibility, millions of dollars before anything happens. This is not something we are taking lightly. This is something we are extremely engaged in and invested in and continue to be.”