Prices skyrocket for downtown hotels, tickets for Game 6 of NBA Finals

National exposure could have lasting impact, say hospitality pros

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The NBA Finals series has meant big business for many downtown Milwaukee businesses, and now prices for game tickets and hotel rooms are spiking for Tuesday’s Game 6 at Fiserv Forum, according to online listings.

Game 6 brings the series back to Milwaukee, and gives the Bucks a chance to clinch their first NBA championship since 1971. It is also a huge, sudden injection of demand for game tickets and hotel rooms.

The morning before Game 6 of the NBA Finals, standing-room-only tickets were on the market for more than $1,100, upper-level seating at Fiserv Forum started around $1,500 and tickets for lower levels were at best around $2,500, though many were even pricier.

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Scant hotel rooms were still available downtown. Those that were available were going for $400 or more per night.

“This is like Mardi Gras in New Orleans,” Greg Hanis, hotel industry analyst and president of New Berlin-based Hospitality Marketers International Inc., said in describing the hotel demand in Milwaukee for Game 6 that is driving up room rates.

According to VISIT Milwaukee, hotel demand for the NBA Finals is comparable to the U.S. Open in 2017 and the upcoming Ryder Cup in September.

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One reason fueling the high hotel room rates was the uncertainty earlier in the series of whether there’d be a Game 6, said Nick Johnson, president of Greater Milwaukee Hotel & Lodging Association.

The Bucks victory in Game 5 also created the possibility of the team winning the series in Game 6, likely driving up demand for tickets and hotel rooms even more.

“We’re seeing a lot of demand last-minute here coming in for Game 6,” said Johnson, who is also regional director of operations for Chicago-based First Hospitality. His firm manages the 127-room Hilton Garden Inn downtown, and others in Lake Geneva and Pleasant Prairie.

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VISIT Milwaukee also pointed out there is decreased inventory of available hotel rooms due to bookings from media, team and league staff, sponsors and other groups. The current rates are for the hotel rooms that remain available.

Johnson said the Hilton Garden Inn was fully booked for Tuesday night’s game. Hotels enjoyed full occupancy for the previous two home games, though the rates were probably not what they would have been if the series was taking place before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hotels will increase their levels of service, and staff will be preparing themselves to answer questions about Milwaukee for out-of-towners.

“The hotels look at themselves as the front door to Milwaukee for guests traveling to the city … so, all the hotels when there’s an event like this really try to make sure guests feel welcome,” Johnson said.

NBA playoffs coverage, particularly The Finals series, has put the national spotlight on Milwaukee. This provides a “fantastic opportunity” for local hospitality and tourism, Hanis said.

Hanis, who lives in Florida, said news stations in his area have been showing images of a packed and lively Fiserv Forum and Deer District, even though no local teams are playing in The NBA Finals.

He compared the exposure to the 2020 Democratic National Convention, at least what could have been for Milwaukee before the pandemic reduced it to a largely virtual event. The Finals, however, show off Milwaukee to national and international audiences through a non-political lens.

“It is just showing Milwaukee in probably one of the best lights you could show it,” Hanis said.

Johnson said the exposure comes at a good time for Milwaukee. Its downtown convention center is embarking on a $420 million expansion.

“I think the impact is going to be seen in future events and conventions that now will think of Milwaukee in top of mind after seeing it highlighted in The Finals,” he said.

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