NBA Arena Review: BMO Harris Bradley Center

Bradley Center NE Entrance

Background on the BMO Harris Bradley Center

The BMO Harris Bradley Center is home to the Milwaukee Bucks. It opened in 1988 yet it’s the NBA 4th oldest arena. The arena hasn’t aged gracefully with NBA commissioner Adam Silver calling it unfit for the NBA. When the Bucks were sold to new ownership in 2014, one of the stipulations was they had to construct a new arena to replace the Bradley Center. If the Bucks didn’t find a new home in Milwaukee, the NBA had the right to purchase it back. This could have been disastrous for Milwaukee as the Bucks could have been moved to a different market like Seattle or Las Vegas. Luckily for Bucks fans, funding for a new arena was approved and the new Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center. The new arena is slated to open for the 2018-19 season and boy is it gorgeous!

But enough about a future arena, let’s talk about the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Unfortunately not much history has occurred at this arena. The Bucks have only had 12 playoff runs since the stadium’s construction. The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar/Oscar Robertson era played their games in the Milwaukee Arena (now known as MECCA Arena). Except for a couple buzzer beaters in the playoffs, the controversial 2001 Eastern Conference Finals, and the Bulls winning their 70th game in Milwaukee, there’s just not much history to talk about. But this project isn’t about the games themselves but about the arena. So how did the BMO Harris Bradley Center do in our NBA arena rankings?

BMO Harris Bradley Center Review

Location

David – Like we mentioned before in our NBA arena ranking criteria, we’re not going to penalize a team for playing in a smaller city. That being said I think Milwaukee is a great little gem of a town that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. The location of the BMO Harris Bradley Center is pretty good, fans attending games have a chance to view downtown Milwaukee with lots of cool restaurants, a variety of bars, and the river close by.  Parking is plentiful and relatively cheap (I parked really close for $15 using SpotHero). You can pre-game with pretzels and bratwurst at the Old German Beer Hall and than after the game hit up a dive bar for some yummy Spotted Cow beer (which you can only get in Wisconsin). The bar hopping area in Milwaukee is Water Street and that’s just a short walk over the river.

Sherief – As a lifelong Minnesotan, spending time in Wisconsin is painful. It was a dreadful 3-hour drive from Minneapolis to Milwaukee that was scattered with sketchy gas stations. The city of Milwaukee comes up out of nowhere and actually looks like civilization. There is a nice water area nearby. That was about as good as it got though. We parked in a dark parking structure that felt like a scene from a scary movie. There was a ton of parking near the stadium, which is helpful. We ended up staying at a hotel a mile away from the stadium which served as housing for some sort of rave. I also think I heard someone get jumped in the room next to ours. Minor details though.

Amenities

David – You really have to hand it to the BMO Harris Bradley Center. They really put their best foot forward when it comes to amenities. Certain food staples come to mind when you think of Milwaukee and they’re all at the arena. You can get German bratwurst, Bavarian pretzels, hot dogs boiled in Leinenkugel’s (another good Wisconsin beer), and cheese curds. Along the main concourse they also have carts serving specialty foods like fancy cheese sandwiches, mac & cheese, and my personal favorite…mini donuts that are fried to order.

Sherief: They had Qdoba in the arena. And cheese curds. Pretty much all you can ask for, right? As a cheese curd lover, the cheese curds were amazing. Not Minnesota State Fair-level, but still amazing. They had a couple lodge-themed restaurants that had a nice ‘Wisconsin’ ambiance.

David: I realized in the three visits to the BMO Harris Bradley Center, I’ve never sat in the upper level. I did a quick search on the arena’s website and it looks like the awesome food options don’t carry over to the upper concourse. They only have your traditional concessions like popcorn and hot dogs. However, the Bucks’ average ticket price is so low you can sit really close for cheap. One time, I sat directly behind the visitors bench for about $125. Last time I went, they had a “buy 1 get 1” promo so I got two tickets for $48.

Sherief: I got some cheap seats in the lower level for $25 each. Really cheap and also a great experience. They had a custom jersey station, which I didn’t expect to see in Milwaukee. We don’t have that in Minnesota. I love the Bucks jerseys right now too so it was fun to check out their gear.

Fan Experience

David:  Bucks organization puts a lot of time and effort into making the game a great experience for fans. Because the Bucks have historically ranked low in fan attendance, they have really become  innovative in terms of ticket sales. I routinely receive email marketing offers for game packs, birthday deals, Black Friday specials, and even a 10 guaranteed wins package.

The Bucks also have a fan section called the Cream City Clash that sits behind the basket on the visitors’ bench side. These fans literally stand and cheer all game much like a soccer super fan section. They had organized chants reminiscent of college basketball. The group can be fun if you’re cheering for the home team, but since they are on the visitor’s side (which I like to sit) they can get quite annoying for fans rooting for the visitors.

Sherief: I will say, this was the best fan experience I have seen from the organization’s perspective. I went to watch the Timberwolves play the Bucks on 90s night. The theme was Nick at Nite, so they had a ton of throwback cartoon mascots in the building. They even brought Keenan from Keenan & Kel to be the host for the night. They were sliming people. It was a night of nostalgia. Of all of the arenas I have been to, the Bucks organization had the most creative fan experience setup of all. Oh, Warren G performed at halftime too.

David: Did Keenan have any Good Burgers? I recently saw the Bucks play the Spurs on a Monday night. During the game they were advertising that the following Friday was 90s night. Which featured a halftime performance by Montell Jordan. I was really tempted on going again. Imagine him singing “This is How We Do It” three times in a row? I would have been in heaven.

Sherief: Too bad it wasn’t Friday night, otherwise you would’ve felt alright. Get it?

David: Can we talk about the Bucks giveaways? I feel like they give out some really dope swag. They are doing 15 promotional giveaways this year including a Thon Maker growth chart, bobble heads, and jerseys. I recently got some sweet Bucks headphones.

Bucks promo headphones

David: Another thing to point out is that Bango, the Bucks’ mascot, isn’t too bad. He’s actually pretty good and entertaining. He does some pretty good dunks and is generous with shirts. He rides around in a Harley-Davidson motorcycle (although it seems to be battery powered with exhaust notes that are artificially fed through the PA system). The actor who played Bango was one of the subjects of a Hulu documentary on mascots so he kind of grew on me.

Aesthetics

David: The BMO Harris Bradley Center isn’t much to look at. Because of the glass window exterior the arena looks more like a corporate office building than an NBA stadium. Once inside of the arena it still gives off an 80s office building vibe with dark colors, brick walls, and ferns (ferns in an NBA arena?). Overall, not a place I would like to hang out at.

Sherief: Not much to add here. It is a pretty depressing place on the inside. The seats are pretty uncomfortable. There is a ton of grey and a lack of lighting. It was cool to see the old school Bucks banners though.

David: Yeah fans were talking smack to me and I just pointed to their last division banner (2001) hanging in the rafters and that quieted them down. A saving point in regards to the aesthetics of the BMO Harris Bradley Center, is that the Bucks are the only team to have an alternative court.  During the season, the team has four “Fear the Deer” nights. Players wear black uniforms and this alternative court is used.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Good food with lots of Wisconsin staples
  • Nice location to hang out during pre and post games
  • Great fan experience

Cons

  • Not a good looking exterior
  • Depressing looking concourse area
  • Lack of food options on the upper levels

Here are David and Sherief’s ranking for the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Be also to listen to their podcast about their visits.

BMO Harris Bradley Center Rating
Location Amenities Fan Experience Aesthetics Total Score
David 7 6 8 1 22
Sherief 6 6 9 5 26
Bitnami