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If it all goes according to plan the Milwaukee Bucks will have an NBA Development League team by the fall of 2017. This is an exciting development with additional intrigue because – along with Grand Chute, La Crosse, Oshkosh, and Sheboygan – the Belle City is a finalist to get the team. So who is the favorite to ultimately land the Bucks’ D-League affiliate? Here is my best guess based on the available information in that series of tubes known as the internet:
5) Racine – The Belle City has two obstacles to acquiring a team. First, the team hypothetical team has neither a place to play nor a prospective place to play. It’s pleasing to imagine a sparkly new downtown arena with mixed-use retail space, but no plan currently exists to build that. In addition, I’m not sure where, exactly, the arena could be constructed. Regardless, the lack of an arena could actually be a boon for Racine’s chances because there’s nothing professional sports league’s love more than sparkly new arenas.
Ironically, the other hindrance to Racine’s D-League hopes is close proximity to Milwaukee. Marc Lasry and Wes Edens – the new owners of the Bucks – want to expand the team’s popularity throughout the state. Among the evidence for this initiative is the alternate logo of the Bucks that features an outline of Wisconsin. That said, the new team will need to draw fans and Racine has a large population within a 50 mile radius.
4) Grand Chute – The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (the Single A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers) play in Grand Chute’s Fox Cities Stadium and consistently draw 250,000 fans per season. The fact that the city has a track record of supporting a minor league team helps their cause. Like Racine, Grand Chute does not have an arena or plans to build one. However, they have two “premier locations” in mind, which gives the city an advantage over Racine.
3) Sheboygan – Sheboygan is a sneaky good sports town. The PGA Championship has been held at Whistling Straits on three occasions and in 2020 it will be site where the Europeans win the Rider Cup. The city is an established destination for some of the most high-profile sporting events in the world, so a D-League team would be just another feather in their cap. The new team would play in the Sheboygan Municipal Auditorium and Armory (known as The Armory), a 2,500 seat arena on the shores of Lake Michigan that would be refurbished for a basketball team. The drawback of Sheboygan is its population: only 114,000 people live in Sheboygan County, a figure significantly smaller than most D-League markets.
2) La Crosse – Situated 210 miles from Milwaukee, La Crosse may be too far away to be practical. As mentioned in this excellent article from Brew Hoop, players and coaches will need to easily travel back and forth between cities. The good news for La Crosse is they have a ready-to-use arena. The La Crosse Center seats 6,100 and previously served as the home of the La Crosse Catbirds of the defunct Continental Basketball Association. The arena will also be getting a $45 million renovation in the near future.
1) Oshkosh – In my “expert” opinion, Oshkosh is the most likely city to get the Bucks’ D-League team. The city is in a geographical sweet spot that’s close enough to Milwaukee to allow for easy transportation to and fro, but far enough away to establish a footprint in a non-Milwaukee market. Indeed, roughly one million people live in the Fox Valley region. Oshkosh also has a group of private investors (collectively known as Fox Valley Professional Basketball LLC) willing to privately finance a $4 million, 3,500 seat arena. All things considered, Oshkosh has the strongest case.
This is a fluid situation because the information about the bids is scarce. For all we know a mysterious billionaire has made a compelling proposal to Lasry and Edens about bringing a team to Racine. However, until the information surfaces (if it surfaces at all), Oshkosh is the leader in the clubhouse.