Peter Feigin readily admits that, as president of the Milwaukee Bucks, he lives in the fantasy world of professional sports.
But his primary challenge is to build a bridge from that world to the real world that includes a home town that is torn by strife and economic stress and forge a connection with a state that has distanced itself from the franchise over the years.
It’s a significant task, Feigin told the Rotary Club of Madison on Wednesday, but one that he and the team’s ownership group headed by Marc Lasry, Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan have taken on with boldness and enthusiasm.
Their ambition is reflected in the mission statement “… to be the most successful and respected sports entertainment company in the world.”
The ownership group bought the Bucks from Sen. Herb Kohl in April 2014 and prevailed in a contentious battle over taxpayer funding for a new arena that they are convinced will reinvigorate the franchise when it opens in 2018.
“It’s a 50-year-old team that we are treating like a start-up,” Feigin said. “We have ripped it down to its studs. We really want to keep the equity of the legacy of the great history of this team and leverage it against the promise of the future.
“This is fantasy world. We’ve been given a magic wand and we can actually recreate a sports professional brand in one of the greatest states in the country that’s rabid about sports.”
In the same breath, Feigin acknowledges that the Bucks have a major undertaking in trying to win back a fan base that has largely ignored the team for years. That point was driven home as he visited with Rotary members before the luncheon at the Park Hotel on Capitol Square.
“If one other person tells me, ‘I haven’t been to a Bucks game in 10 years,’ I’m going to punch him in the nose,” Feigin said jokingly. “I’ve had enough.
“We’ve lost a generation of fans. We have lost the interest. We are the NBA team of the state. We have a great history, we are one of 13 teams that have an NBA championship. What we’ve done has been a little dormant over the last decade, which is real tough for any entertainment venue, especially a sports team. What we’ve got to do is reengage fans.”
One of the team’s primary targets is Madison, which is one reason why the Bucks will hold their preseason camp at the University of Wisconsin’s Nicholas-Johnson Pavilion for the second consecutive year next week and play an exhibition game at the Kohl Center against the Dallas Mavericks on Oct. 8.
“Madison is an extremely valuable market to us,” Feigin said.
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This will be the last training camp in Madison, as the team will have a new practice facility by next year that will be part of the 30-acre development project just north of the Bradley Center that will change the face of downtown Milwaukee over the next two years and beyond.
Feigin defended the $250 million in taxpayer money that will cover about half the cost of the new arena, saying that state, city and county governments will recoup four times the investment over the length of the loans.
He also said that the project will infuse life into a part of the city desperately in need. The New York City native said he’s had his eyes opened to the issues facing Milwaukee and said the team is determined to help wherever it can. Its top three priorities are wellness, education and work development, he said.
“We know we can’t cure the world,” Feigin said. “But we are very determined to get ourselves involved in programs that we can measure a difference in and put our claws into for a long period of time and show a difference.
“Very bluntly, Milwaukee is the most segregated, racist place I’ve ever experienced in my life. It just is a place that is antiquated. It is in desperate need of repair and has happened for a long, long time. One of our messages and one of our goals is to lead by example.”
Feigin sees the Bucks becoming a rallying point for the city and state, in the same way the Packers, Brewers and Badgers have been over the years.
“We have to win,” he said. “We get it. Our objective is to win a world championship, not to be a winning team. Those are two drastically different things. We’re on a bit of a journey, we don’t want it to be that long of a journey.
“The good news is we live in surreal world. This is pro sports, nothing makes sense. It’s a little bit about your brain and 3,000 percent about your heart. It makes you do irrational things. You’re attached to a team you love. There’s a loyalty that you can’t express. Once you’re attached, you’re great. We’ve got to reattach a lot of the citizens of the state of Wisconsin to the Milwaukee Bucks, to the brand, and have that pride of ownership and have that loyalty.”
Bucks guard Khris Middleton sustained a left hamstring injury in preseason workouts Tuesday and will require surgery, general manager John Hammond announced Wednesday.
Middleton is expected to be sidelined for approximately six months, with surgery planned in the next week.
Middleton, 25, averaged a career-high 18.2 points, 4.2 assists and 1.7 steals last season along with 3.8 rebounds in 79 games.