Milwaukee's Fiserv Forum Celebrates Nearly 2M Fans in Year One, Preps for 2020 DNC

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Nick Monroe
Fiserv Forum 

Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum opened its doors on Sept. 4, 2018, with a concert from The Killers and hometown heroes The Violent Femmes. The Grand Opening event welcomed fans from all over Wisconsin to the new 17,500-seat arena and new home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. In the first 365 days of operations since then, the Buck’s staff that owns and operates the arena has welcomed more than 1.7 million fans to the facility and has hosted several events on the grounds outside the arena with thousands of people gathering on their expanding campus called the Deer District.

“It’s been unbelievable,” Fiserv Forum general manager Raj Saha tells Billboard on the arena’s first birthday. “We’re basically selling out every show that comes in here, which has been great.”

Fiserv Forum has hosted 65 special events (concerts, UFC matches, family shows and more) since September 2018 and has sold out 35 of 41 regular season Bucks games, plus all of the team’s playoff appearances.

The arena’s first year has seen a revitalization of Milwaukee’s downtown area and an impressive slate of arena tours from major artists including John Mayer, Shawn Mendes, Carrie Underwood, Kiss and four dates for Eric Church.

Billboard sat down with Saha on the building’s first anniversary to discuss its support from the Milwaukee community, its diverse content and its plans to host the Democratic National Convention in 2020.

How did your first event (The Killers and The Violent Femmes) launch your presence in Milwaukee?

It was obviously a lot of nerves getting ready to open the building, but we take a lot of pride in the fact that we actually opened doors about two minutes early, which is great and very unusual for the first events that you have inside a building. It was a great night. The Killers had been to Milwaukee before, but had only played in a smaller 3,500-cap room. To have them at the arena level was amazing. Milwaukee is known so much for the Violent Femmes and they put on a great show as well. They ended up having a jam session at the end of night with both bands playing the theme song for (1970’s sitcom based in Milwaukee) Laverne & Shirley.

How has Fiserv Forum managed to attract so many big touring acts in its first year?

One is our ability to really help move tickets and sell tickets. A lot of these artists are selling out on on-sale or shortly after. The fact that we have 10,000 seats in our lower bowl maximizes the gross potential for any show. In the old building there were only 5,000 seats downstairs and 12,000 upstairs. Here we've got 10,000 downstairs and 6,000 upstairs. It's a very intimate feel.

We are a sports team, but we’ve put a lot of time into growing the entertainment part of the business. There are a lot of people here who love music and they are always trying to put on the best possible show whenever someone is in the building.

Milwaukee has a lot of rock fans, have other genres been doing well at the new arena?

We’ve got our second ever Latin show coming up in November with Banda MS; we had J Balvin in October. There was never a true Latin show or a Latin artist that went to the Bradley Center [former home of the Bucks]. We’ve done Travis Scott, we’ve got Chance the Rapper coming up. I was told by a local media person that when we did our Travis Scott show, it was the first hip-hop show to play in any arena here in 16 or 17 years. We pride ourselves on the fact that we have diverse entertainment. Comedy is very big in this market as well. We had Jim Gaffigan and he did over 12,000 tickets. The local market has responded very well from a ticket buying perspective.  

In addition to the arena, the Bucks operate the Deer District. Can you explain what that space is for?

The Deer District is our plaza that has four bars and restaurants that connects the plaza into the next neighborhood over which is old world third street. We’ve also got a beer garden. In our beer garden we’ve got a 30-foot-high television screen. We had upwards of 10,000 people in our beer garden and plaza during the playoffs. We had several thousand people here for the Women’s World Cup Final. It is becoming a new gathering point for downtown. In Milwaukee, there is no Bryant Park like there is in New York or a Grant or Lincoln Park like there is in Chicago. The goal is to make this the community gathering point for local and global celebrations.

How did Fiserv Forum land the 2020 DNC? What’s it like preparing for that kind of event?

Shortly after DNC 2016 in Philadelphia, we knew there was going to be an opportunity to bid. We put a really good and obviously comprehensive big package together. It is a big undertaking, not just for us but for the entire city. The convention is from July 13-17. The NBA Finals end of June 21 so we’re looking forward to a three-week build. It will be a really good stress test for the building, but it’s something we’re really looking forward to.

We're starting to see some plans from production to security. Nothing's set in stone yet, but there's representatives from the DNC that are here inside the building, measuring things, taking a look at things, two to three times a week.

 

2019 Billboard Live Music Summit and Awards

 


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