Last updated on July 15th, 2021 at 12:08 pm
Game 3 of the NBA Finals in Milwaukee included a star-studded sell-out crowd, high-profile media and a historic win for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Facing a 2-0 deficit in the series, the Bucks secured a 120-100 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night at Fiserv Forum in downtown Milwaukee. Two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo led his team with 41 points and 13 rebounds. The series will continue with Game 4 on Wednesday in Milwaukee.
In their first NBA Finals appearance since 1974, the Bucks are certainly making history on the court. But even more notable is the impact being made on Milwaukee as a once-overlooked, small-market city, especially as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic’s devastation.
During the past two rounds of the playoffs, the Bucks have not only sold out the arena, which opened at full capacity (16,500 seats) last month, but they also have hosted tens of thousands of fans at outdoor watch parties. The Deer District has become the center of Bucks playoff excitement – and an iconic image on national TV – drawing as many as 25,000 fans on game nights, home or away.
VISIT Milwaukee estimates that playoff home games generate about $3 million in economic impact to the area, but that figure does not account for the additional impact of Deer District alone.
Addressing members of the media on Saturday, Bucks president Peter Feigin discussed the NBA Finals appearance as an opportunity to put Milwaukee on the national stage.
“We’re beyond excited to show off this jewel of a city … this is a moment in time when the focus of world sports is on us, where we have thousands of people visiting — the media, visiting fans, our global fans,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable opportunity to welcome these people with open arms.”
The total number of visitors The Finals is bringing to the city is unclear, but the Bucks said 200 members of the international and national media made the trip.
Feigin said the Bucks organization hopes to leverage the economic impact of the event to recover from the pandemic and help the surrounding community do the same.
“We want to be the catalyst but really the ripple effect, like how does this run through the city? We think there’s no better timing than right now, coming out of the pandemic to give that economic boost to hotels, restaurants, to cultural events.”
Many hotels in downtown Milwaukee were at 100% occupancy going into the weekend, including Saint Kate, The Pfister, Hilton Milwaukee City Center, The Iron Horse, Home2 Suites by Hilton and Tru by Hilton. Tim Smith, general manager at The Pfister called the NBA Playoffs a “monster demand generator” for the local hotel market.
The influx of downtown foot traffic during the Bucks’ deep playoff run has been a boon for downtown bars like Drink Wisconsinbly Pub, one of the three bar-restaurants currently open along the Bucks’ entertainment block. June was the pub’s best month since opening in spring 2019, said Ryan Walther, co-owner of Wisconsinbly Holdings.
“The timing has helped get our business on track after a difficult year,” said Walther, crediting the bar’s staff for staying on their toes over the past year.
“They went from basically no crowds due to the shut down to nil crowds during capacity restrictions, and now they’re taking on a deluge of people … and they’ve handled it incredibly well,” he said.
The bar currently staffs 12 people on game nights, under the direction of general manager Michael Guardalabene. While DWP has secured the labor needed to operate at higher volumes, Walther said the business is always on the lookout for more team members.
Parking services have also benefitted from the extra tens of thousands of people making the drive to downtown Milwaukee again after a year of often-empty streets.
“Due to COVID-19 and all these (entertainment) seasons being cancelled over the past year, our revenues were really diminished,” said Nicki Schlederer, business manager at Isaacs Parking. “The impact of the Bucks being in these playoff games and making it as far as they have has been enormous.”
Isaacs owns a 780-stall structure and 60-stall surface lot located at 330 W. Wells Street, just a few blocks south of Fiserv Forum. The business has seen a boost in traffic on home game nights, as well as away game nights – albeit 25% less. But the two properties have not been selling out, so there is still availability for those interested, said Schlederer.