While the game itself may be forgotten, hosting an all-star game is a big deal for a professional sports town. If you were in Milwaukee in 2002, you may remember the hustle and bustle of the all-star Major League Baseball game (I was there!) That notoriously went down in a draw. Pretty soon the city will get a chance to “redeem” itself as modern MLB stadiums see their second All-Star game (Denver, Cleveland, Seattle), but there is a new building in town that will be one first must be seen.
The Bradley Center aged pretty quickly and never hosted an NBA All-Star game, but old Mecca hosted the 1977 game. Before the stadium boom of the 1990s to today, however, the situation was very different: now the league seems to be the location preferring a franchise for their high-profile exhibit over their sparkling new facility like the one the MLB is giving away. Rather than granting the event to cities that have built new arenas – many with public funding – the NBA has kept coming back to the youngest hosts, which has resulted in some puzzling reruns in recent years. The Staples Center hosted three games, two of which were only six years apart, although I suspect the building represents two teams. Warm-weather markets like Houston and Atlanta have taken place twice in their current arenas, the former opening in 2003 and the latter in 1999 (but with a recent major renovation).
When I say location, however, I am not talking about warm and sunny weather in February. The current arenas in Salt Lake City and Cleveland will both see their second All-Star games this season and next, while Toronto finally got theirs in 2016 after two decades in the league. It’s not necessarily about shine either; Miami hasn’t hosted one in its current 22-year-old building, and neither has the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn. New Orleans may not be a glamorous NBA city – and a smaller market than even Milwaukee, indeed – but it has been home to it three All-star games since the Pelicans-née-Hornets moved to town. One of them was relocated from Charlotte in protest of the league against North Carolina’s discriminatory bathroom bill, making it more like two actual selections, but props to the NBA to help the city recover from Hurricane Katrina.
This selection pattern has for many years deprived other markets with modern arenas the chance of higher sales. The local economies in Memphis and Oklahoma City will benefit far more from these celebrations than Los Angeles or New York, and their teams built venues in the 2000s. These cities are newer additions to the NBA, but Sacramento opened the Golden 1 Center in 2016 and although the Moda Center in Portland was built in 1995, it has aged well: I certainly couldn’t tell when I saw a game there. All four of these cities have never hosted the event. Meanwhile, even non-NBA and non-basketball venues have landed games at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas and UNLV’s Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas.
So when it comes to location, it’s less about a city’s climate, sophistication, or market size. Remember that even the league’s smaller markets are only labeled as such when compared to the rest of the league; these are still big cities with infrastructures for big events. The Big Easy has long been a popular congress and conference destination due to its abundance of hotel rooms – high-end rooms at that. It’s also a frequent Super Bowl host. To host the Super Bowl and several NCAA Final Fours, downtown Indianapolis has built up a lot of capacity for large sporting events, and the sensational (I highly recommend a game there) Bankers Life Fieldhouse will finally see the NBA All-Star Game in 2024, though many of it Facilities were repurposed or demolished, Salt Lake City hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics.
However, it is more than just a large infrastructure. For the NBA, location is about convenience; Conveniences the NBA needs for the all-star weekend. Although Adam Silver declared in 2018 that there was an “obligation” to bring the game to Milwaukee, at the opening of the Fiserv Forum – and in years to come – the NBA cited the main reason it was not granted an All-Star Game in the near future there will be a lack of four- and five-star hotel rooms. The market needs a total of 6,000, many of which must have at least “four-star quality”. Why do you need so many? It’s not for the players. Every NBA city has at least one fancy hotel where visiting teams stay; Milwaukees is usually the haunted Pfister (#HeatCulture!) Or, more recently, the journeyman in the third district.
Are the celebrity and other big funders spaces coming to the game? If I remember correctly, I have a lot of A-listers (Sheryl Crow doesn’t count). seen GAME SIX OF THE NBA FINAL. There were the same number of butts on these seats as in that meaningless game back in February. Where were they if there wasn’t enough room for a bloody all-star game? Were Dave Chappelle and Kendall Jenner at the Four Points by Sheraton Airport? Did Gucci Mane crash at Ersan in Mequon? Kanye was apparently on the guest list; was he released on bail because the Saint Kate bridal suite was fully booked?
Joking aside, the hotel capacity argument doesn’t really follow. Chicago’s United Center, despite its full history since it opened in 1994, eventually hosted the game in 2020. The Windy City certainly doesn’t lack the boutique hotel rooms the NBA wants, so why wait? Miami is as upscale a tourist spot as anywhere, and the NBA has one of their flagship teams there, so why haven’t they brought their talent to South Beach since 1990? These franchises were bidding and their fans demanding the All-Star Game for much longer than the Bucks, but they all had the arena to justify it.
I am not buying it, Adam. But we play your game. The NBA’s all-star game isn’t the Super Bowl and hosts half the fans as MLBs, but apparently what was enough for baseball in 2002 isn’t enough for the current NBA. While Milwaukee doesn’t have as many downtown luxury hotels as some other small markets, the revitalized Deer District has been driving development as the team hoped. Just last week, the Bucks and developers broke ground for a new nine-story Marriott Autograph Collection hotel just across Juneau Street from the Fiserv Forum to follow along with nearby Hyatt Place up the hill to the west and the Aloft two blocks to the east . A Tempo by Hilton has been proposed for Old World Third and Kilbourn near Mecca. These are all in close proximity to the arena, and there is a whole empty piece of land where the Bradley Center used to be.
More high-end infrastructure will come, but the capacity for bigger events than the NBA could ever host is already there. Thanks in no small part to the efforts of the Bucks owner group, Milwaukee landed at the 2020 Democratic National Convention taking place at the Fiserv Forum. Of course, a global pandemic meant the event went online and the city missed dozens (hundreds?) Of millions of deals. A political convention in an election year is about as big as a city can hold: rooms are booked out every year, many residents rent their homes as Airbnbs, and even cities like Madison, which are just a short drive away, saw great hotel demand. DNC attendees may not be as picky about their accommodations as the NBA, but the influx of media and political visitors to the convention is dwarfing the NBA All-Star Game. If the DNC went as planned, only an all-star bid would have helped.
The league has planned All-Star venues through 2024 and tends to announce future years just before the regular seasons start. While this year we can hope, there’s a pretty good chance the NBA won’t pick the Fiserv Forum for a while. There are venues built between 1995 and 2002 in Boston, Miami, Dallas, and San Antonio that have not yet hosted: all of them obviously have long-standing strong basketball cities. In addition, Detroit and Golden State moved into new premises in 2017, the latter being the NBA’s newest arena in a very high-income market. The Clippers will complete their state-of-the-art, recently named Intuit Dome in 2024.
Milwaukee may be in a better position to host the likes of Memphis and OKC, but I don’t expect a selection anytime soon. That’s pure speculation, but I’d guess the Chase Center in San Francisco is likely to have the inside track of a game in the near future and be selected for 2025 or 2026. I think it’s more likely the league will place a spot or two like Miami and Dallas or go back to the LA fountain before the Bucks get theirs. The same could be said for Sacramento and San Antonio, however, so Milwaukee competes with them too.
For their part, the Bucks try pretty much every year and provide the money for what the NBA wants. After a championship, there is no more franchise that deserves it.