As some of the dust is settling with the new ownership group coming on board at Villa Park, a familiar name to American sports fans is being brought into the new triumvirate, that of Milwaukee Bucks owner Wes Edens. After yesterday’s brief rundown of Edens’ financial situation, we figured we’d enlist some help from SB Nation’s Milwaukee Bucks blog - Brew Hoop - in getting more into the depth of what to expect with our new Caesar...or Pompey...or Crassus...Maybe we that’s a question we should have asked?
Our new friends at Brew Hoop were happy to oblige and Staff Editor Greg Licht volunteered his extensive expertise for Villa fans. Greg does a fantastic job of going into depth on what we can look forward to, what role Edens has played with his prior sports venture, and whether we’ll be furiously retweeting Edens cryptic posts in the future or just plain furious. Fact is, there are a lot of similarities between Edens taking control of basketball in America’s Dairyland and the situation we find ourselves in at Villa Park. Some of those similarities give a bit of pause and some of them give comfort. Read on and let’s learn about our new co-chairman.
1. We’ve learned a little about Edens’ wealth and investment portfolio, but from the Bucks perspective what can you tell us about him?
Wes Edens has been the face and voice of the ownership group since acquiring the Bucks. His fingerprints have been all over the development and direction of the organization and real estate the Bucks now find themselves with since being sold. He is very confident in the vision the ownership group has for the team and is not shy in asserting that confidence. At media day last season he said, “Guys in Philly want to talk about the process, I’d rather talk about the results.” Well, the Philadelphia 76ers would go onto finish ahead of the Bucks in the Eastern Conference standings, so he is not afraid to get #oldtakesexposed with his confidence. At least he is not one to waiver too much.
Zooming out from basketball minutiae, the Bucks have revitalized a chunk of downtown Milwaukee that was best described as an urban eyesore. The Bucks are the main tenant in the new arena that will open in a month or two and they own the new buildings that are being constructed around the new arena which will be leased out to restaurants, breweries, retailers, etc. In other words, Edens and Co. bought the Bucks and will soon be reaping those sweet real estate dollars in a quickly growing downtown. Corporate cynicism aside, the vision Edens and Co. have for their portion of the downtown Milwaukee area has created a ton of buzz and excitement for what is shaping up to be a destination entertainment block, and as a Milwaukee resident, I am personally excited for it to be fully operational.
2. The new ownership group at Villa Park will be a multi-national combination of the Chinese Dr Tony Xia, the Egyptian Nassef Sawiris, and the American Wes Edens, who has some experience in a similar situation being that he’s in partnership with Marc Lasry. What has Edens role been in Milwaukee’s hierarchy?
Milwaukee’s ownership hierarchy has been a thorn in some Bucks fans’ sides because it can get messy from time to time. Two owners in the ownership triumvirate of Edens, Marc Lasry, and Jamie Dinan take turns being the “Governor” of the ownership group in five year rotations. Edens is the first to be in the Governor role with this upcoming 2018/19 season being his last before turning tie-breaking power over to Marc Lasry. Then once Lasry fulfills his five years as Governor, Edens reclaims the title, and so on and so forth. Dinan is the odd man out in the trio, mainly because his portion of funding was smaller than Edens’ and Lasry’s. Edens’ role these first five years has been laying the foundation for a successful and sustainable franchise by taking a long term approach to team building and getting the new arena and coinciding developments built. Here is some further reading and a more detailed account of how this “unique” hierarchy has affected the Bucks.
If Villa fans want a track record of how Edens acts as the lead decision maker of a sports franchise, the past four years are the best example they can get. My grade of his time as Governor is split into organizational and outside the organization. For his organizational decisions, I would rate that as a C+/B-. Some fans would rate that higher, others lower. It seems like his time has been mired in a lot of two steps forward, one step back decisions. For what he has done as chief decision maker for things outside of the organization, like the new arena, I’d go with a B+/A-. It’s not an easy-A since public money was used to fund a sizable portion of the new arena.
3. Aston Villa has had a rough go of it with ownership for quite some time and are in a very tenuous place. Could you let us know about Edens coming into ownership with the Bucks. What has the before and after looked like? Was there a “we’re in good hands now” moment?
There are some slight parallels between present day Aston Villa and pre-Edens Milwaukee Bucks. Villa threw all their chips into the center of the table this year betting on earning promotion and getting the fat stacks that come with EPL football. Obviously, that bet did not pay off and now Villa is in a sticky financial situation. The previous owner of the Bucks, former United States Senator, Herb Kohl, had an infamous philosophy of mortgaging long term growth for short term gain. This led to many Bucks teams barely making it into the playoffs only to lose in the first round to far superior teams. The short-sighted, win-now strategy that Kohl erroneously employed led to the Bucks being a mess of a franchise.
The “we’re in good hands now” moment came from just the ownership group taking over and being open about a path to becoming a competent NBA franchise. Since then, the Bucks are considered a top five team in the Eastern Conference, they have one of the most internationally marketable young superstars in Giannis Antetokounmpo, and a positive buzz that has not been felt around the franchise since 2001. The ownership group also oversaw an incredibly successful re-brand of the franchise’s primary and secondary logos, as well as marketing efforts. The Bucks finished top ten in merchandise sales league wide this past season and that does not happen without the fantastic new logos and snazzy gear (having Antetokounmpo does not hurt either). Considering where they were, the Bucks have certainly gone upward as far as becoming consistent and stable-ish.
However, there have been a handful of fateful transactions that have taken away from that good feeling, however. The most infamous being back in the summer of 2017, the Bucks were looking to hire a new GM and it was long thought that then Assistant GM, Justin Zanik, would shed the assistant tag and slot in as the new GM. Well, that did not happen. Zanik is now with the Utah Jazz and the Bucks current GM, Jon Horst, was the surprise pick to be the new GM. Horst was a surprise because it was never mentioned that he was in the running for the GM job in the first place. So how did Horst land the ultimate gig? The TL;DR of how the Bucks ended up with Horst goes something like: Lasry and Dinan wanted Zanik, Edens wanted Horst, Edens was out voted 2-1, Edens enacted “Governor power” and made the executive decision/order to hire Horst despite being in the minority. This has been a huge sticking point within sections of the fan base at how dysfunctional having three decision makers can be when ultimate control of the franchise is swapped every five years. So, what could that point to as he heads up control with Villa? Edens is not afraid to strong arm and enact his decision even if it goes against the grain. Again, he is very confident in his vision.
4. For those in the sports-world but not specifically in-tune with the Bucks, the stadium situation in Milwaukee from a few years ago generated some conversation internally at 7500 to Holte. There have been some nightmare situations with American owners threatening moving their clubs to get a good deal from the city before they commit to staying. Could you break that down for us? What was Edens part to play in that situation?
The Bucks were such a mess that the NBA considered moving the franchise out of Milwaukee. This is where Edens & Co. came into the mix. Kohl sold the team to them under the stipulation the team stays in Milwaukee, and for the team to stay in Milwaukee, a new stadium had to be built per-NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s guidelines. The Wisconsin state legislature quickly passed legislation that secured a new arena for the Bucks. Like I mentioned earlier, the arena was built with a portion of the funds coming from a combination of Milwaukee County taxes and budgeted aid that was going to go to various programs and departments within Milwaukee’s local government.
So what was the final bill for a new state of the art arena? $550 million. $100 million of that cost came out of former owner, Herb Kohl’s, pockets. The current ownership group ponied up $200 million and the public’s contribution was slated at $250 million. Mind you, the Bucks are not the owner of the arena (that is the Wisconsin Center), just the main tenant as well as the sole provider for arena maintenance. As I said above, the Bucks do own the buildings that are being currently constructed around the arena and will see revenue from the tenants of said buildings. The public will get a return on its investment in the form of the parking garage that connects to the new arena.
What was Edens’ role with this? [shrug emoji] I am sure that he was on the front lines when it came to getting the legislature passed in only a month and convincing the public needed to pay for almost half of total cost. Remember, Edens is very confident and driven when he believes in his vision, and he clearly persuaded enough of the right folks to not foot the entire arena’s bill. As the Governor, he was the mouthpiece and chief decision maker of the ownership group during some very uncertain times for the Bucks, so I am assuming he led the charge with everything, being the successful businessman that he is.
5. Another 30,000 foot view of the Bucks ownership brings up memories of Mallory Edens at the NBA Draft Lottery a few years back. Even though it seems complicated to ask about, she has been in the public eye. Is she involved with her father’s ventures?
Mallory Edens’ NBA Lottery appearance has been her most involved moment here with the franchise. Other than some Bucks related social media posts, she is not involved. I would be surprised if she ever made her way out to Birmingham for anything other than promotional work for Villa. Honestly, Marc Lasry’s son, Alex, has been the most involved and public figure within the ownership kin since he actually works for the team and is active on twitter.
6. This one will come out of left field, but our current owner has riled up fans with some transfer-rumor based Twitter interaction, so kind of a two-for-one here: What are Wes Edens rumor mill-based emoji tweet skills on a scale of 1 to Keepin’ it 100? And if that’s not super-applicable, how has he interacted with fans?
Edens is as active on social media as any dad born in the 60s would be, which is to say, not at all. Villa fans can breathe easy knowing Edens will not mess around on social media. His fan interaction is about average for a professional owner. He sits front court, he greets and makes small talk with fans - nothing out of the ordinary. He has been great at bringing back old players that felt ostracized by Milwaukee (hello, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), so he certainly “gets it” for the most part. He is very much a businessman and less of a socialite.
Pertinent to Edens’ time with the Bucks is his experience with shared ownership. It sounds like that has led to some sticky situations, but it’s the hope that those provided the wisdom to make better decisions going forward instead of the hubris to continue to power through. Dr Tony, in his fight to keep control over the previous few months, has not seemed one to accept much input or share his role, but with the agreement to bring in Sawiris and Edens, perhaps he’s been properly chastened.
Also of note for this Villa fan were Edens successes at arena-area restoration. Villa Park is maybe the single best asset that the club owns and the ability to leverage that asset for revenue can go a long ways in helping with the FFP hammer poised to strike the club. The spot on choice to bring in Luke 1977 to design the fantastic new kits showed that the best path forward for the club is to further delve deeper into the aura and aesthetic of Aston Villa as the hometown club. Edens—though not from Milwaukee—won Greg and many other Bucks fans over with his commitment to that community and he has all of the ingredients here to build this club from the inside out in a similar way.
All in all, this is a particularly exciting addition to the club. Edens’ experience seems to run right in line with what the club needs right now. After years of darkness—and the past few weeks as dark as any—bringing new blood into the ownership group yesterday felt like a page turning. Learning more about Edens from Greg makes the anticipation of the next chapter all the more exciting.
We’d encourage you all, if you’ve made it this far, to please go check out Brew Hoop to solidify our new partnership, give Greg Licht a follow on Twitter to say thanks for his insight, and enjoy some Giannis “The Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo highlights on YouTube.
As always, UTV.