The Milwaukee Bucks are a pretty good example of the market struggles facing smaller-market owners in the NBA. It’s not like owner Herb Kohl hasn’t hired good people. John Hammond and Scott Skiles are both very good at their respective positions. And it’s not like Kohl hasn’t spent money on players. From Michael Redd to John Salmons to Drew Gooden to Andrew Bogut, the Bucks have kept the purse strings loose to try and build a winner. But the market simply hasn’t been great without the ability to convince fans they can compete for a championship (with good reason). And as a result, the Bucks have lost quite a bit of money. And it would appear the Bucks have tapped the league for quite a bit of help to cover themselves for the red line present and future.
From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, borrowed at least $55 million last year from the NBA’s credit facility, according to his Senate financial disclosure form.
Disclosure rules in the Senate do not require senators to disclose the exact amount of their investments, assets and liabilities. But the records indicate that Kohl borrowed at least $55 million in three separate loans in behalf of the Bucks.
The records also indicate that Kohl used some of the proceeds for investments by two of his trusts. That is allowable under NBA rules for those borrowing from the $2 billion credit facility.
The Journal notes that taking the loan doesn’t necessarily mean that the team lost money. But considering Kohl has openly said the Bucks have lost money and their status in Forbes’ franchise-value list, it’s a pretty good bet. That’s quite a bit of cash for one franchise, and with Kohl deciding not to run for re-election in 2012, you have to wonder if eventually Kohl won’t be the one writing checks, or applying for loans on behalf of the Bucks.
It’s probable that Kohl would look to sell the team to a local ownership group to keep the team in Milwaukee, but considering that kind of red ink on the books, it might be difficult. Meanwhile, expect ownership to use this kind of information to squeeze the players, using it as evidence of their enormous losses over the past several years while the players continue to respond in saying that revenue sharing and other venues will solve the problem and no one really having a conversation about it.
It’s hard to pinpoint anything Kohl’s done to put himself in this situation. The Bucks have made their fair share of poor moves, player-wise, management-wise, coaching-wise over the past few years, but they’ve been respectable. Everyone points to the Knicks’ failures to win a title as evidence the system doesn’t favor big market teams, but a look at the larger markets’ black ink compared to cases like this shows there’s enough there to support the idea of the system being broken.
Only question is how long it will take to fix it.