NBA FINALS EXPOSURE: Trying to calculate the incalculable

Crowd at Milwaukee's Deer District celebrate the Bucks Championship win

As Milwaukee basks in the afterglow of the Bucks NBA championship, it is hard to believe that the Fiserv Forum almost didn’t get built.

Back in 2015, the new ownership’s request for partial state funding was met with scorn by many, and the negotiations to build the stadium (and keep the team) teetered on collapse. Even the final green light announcement by Gov. Walker was decidedly lukewarm, relying on the slogan “Cheaper to Keep Them.”  Fortunately, that rather passive-aggressive economic argument carried the day.

Now the city (and state) is reaping the rewards of that investment…and then some. By almost any measure, the economic impact of the Bucks recent playoff run is enormous. In direct spending, each home game was worth approximately $3 million to the city. However, the real rewards are much broader, much longer term, and much harder to calculate.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t try.

One way to look at it is through the equivalent advertising value of Milwaukee’s exposure on the NBA Finals broadcasts. Clearly, ABC’s producers were smitten with the crowd and atmosphere in the Deer District, and cut to shots of the plaza before, during and after the games, even away games. Panning b-roll of the Milwaukee skyline and lakefront was also frequently used on the home game bump-ins.

I’m estimating that, in aggregate, roughly 10 minutes of the 2 ½ hour broadcasts were shots of Milwaukee. With :30 second ads in the Finals going for almost $1 million each, that comes out to roughly $20 million in ad equivalence. But, that’s domestic only… and the NBA Finals were televised in 215 countries! While I don’t have a $$ figure for a globally broadcast :30, it certainly would be reasonable to double the total to $40 million per home game. And considering 70% of the NBA’s social engagement comes from abroad, and international ratings were strong, that is probably a lowball estimate.

Granted this is an apples-and-oranges comparison; shots of the city are not actual advertisements. However, images of a state-of-the-art stadium and a young, diverse fan base are clearly valuable, especially for a Rust Belt city. And the in-game exposure also stimulated true advertising by organizations like Wisconsin Department of Tourism and Visit Milwaukee, which targeted meeting and convention planners as well as tourists. In many ways, the NBA Finals gave the city the global exposure we’d hoped to get last summer via the Democratic National Convention.

Obviously, it is impossible to put an exact dollar amount on the NBA Finals (and overall NBA Playoff) exposure. As the old saying goes, it was something that money can’t buy…and the true ROI won’t be fully realized for years down the road. But in the meantime, Milwaukeeans and Wisconsinites can look back at the funding decisions made in 2015 and grin from ear to ear…kind of like Giannis holding the MVP trophy.