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Bucking trends

When longtime Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl sold the team in spring 2014 to an ownership group led by Marc Lasry and Wes Edens, there were bound to be changes within the storied franchise.

Those changes have come in a flurry, most notably in the form of a revamped logo, new uniforms and court designs, and biggest of all approval for a new arena that will keep the team in Milwaukee for years to come. At the helm of those changes has been Bucks President Peter Feigin, who joined the team when Lasry and Edens purchased it.

Feigin is passionate about basketball, having played it “probably every week for my entire life.” However, while he had a previous stint in the NBA when former Bucks General Manager Ernie Grunfeld hired Feigin to run partnerships and marketing when Grunfeld was GM of the New York Knicks, he’s not a professional basketball lifer.

Feigin got his start in business at Six Flags as part of the sales and marketing program in the 1990s. From there he went to the Knicks, only to depart for a 10-year break from professional sports entertainment to run private aviation firm Marquis Jets. Toward the end of that 10-year run, Marquis was sold to NetJets, a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary, and Feigin helped run the company’s North American division for two years.

He found his way back to basketball through a happy coincidence. During his time away from the sport, he had gotten to know both Lasry and Edens through his identical twin brother, who was headmaster of a school in New York where their children all attended school. When Lasry and Edens started to look at purchasing a professional team, Feigin’s twin suggested they bring his brother on board as part of their team to help perform due diligence. “If nothing else, my brother said they’d have a great time and I’d give them a very clean snapshot of what I thinks the value and pros and cons of purchasing a team would be,” Feigin says. “That’s how I really got attached with Marc and Wes.”

One thing Feigin is sure of, he never expected to be running the business side of a professional basketball franchise. “I can tell you when I worked in my first stint over a decade ago with the Knicks, I said to myself I’d only do this again if I did run a team. It’s so operational and so grinding; I wanted to reimagine the way a team could be run.”

Turning the page

While the Bucks have a 1971 NBA championship to their name, they haven’t been a consistent championship contender over the past 40 years.

Feigin and the new ownership group are set on changing that. Part of the change comes in selling the team to a new generation of fans who have never known a championship Bucks team.

“It’s difficult, because any time you sell anything you have to present the value proposition,” Feigin explains. “For us, we really had to focus on how to have great game entertainment, a clean arena, great food and beverages — all the things that are touch points for fans that would give them a reason to come here without a question.

Milwaukee Bucks President Peter Feigin (center) at the team's Bucks Own the Future Community Tailgate event. (Photo credit: Milwaukee Bucks)

“The overall difference with this ownership group is it’s very clear we’ve got two main objectives — we’re going to build a team to compete for a championship and we’re going to invest in and run this business so it can be the best business it can be,” Feigin continues. “I don’t know how it was run prior but I can tell you going forward we have a mantra that’s ‘constant improvement.’”

Integral to that was securing approval for a new arena, a process that was far from a sure thing.

“Our benefit was we had no legacy or history in local, county, or state governments,” Feigin notes. “Our weakness was we had no history in local, county, or state governments. We had to accelerate forging relationships with elected officials and sell our vision, because this vision is much more than getting approval for an arena. It’s how do we take a plot of 28 acres and really transform a major chunk of downtown Milwaukee to be a place where people live, work, and play, of which an NBA team is an unbelievably great catalyst to make it happen.”

Feigin admits there was one low point in the process when he wasn’t sure a deal would get done. The day the arena proposal was stripped from the state budget, Feigin had to call ownership and inform them the deal might not happen.

However, backup plans that had been discussed in concept weren’t needed, as state lawmakers eventually approved a new arena in August.

Feigin has also led the team through an aggressive rebranding process.

“If you’ve ever gone through rebranding, people take a couple years to really not make a mistake. We actually wanted to accelerate this and get it done in less than a year to have a universal change in retail. We surveyed, talked to, and focus-grouped probably more than 1,500 people in the city, across the state, and out of state, along with other teams that had done rebrands.”

Feigin says what they found was the team needed a dramatic refresh of its brand, but they also needed to stay true to parts of the team’s legacy. “We realized we couldn’t lose the heritage this team, this city, and this state have.”

That idea of rebuilding and rebranding will permeate Feigin’s presentation at the next IB Icons in Business breakfast on December 22.

“If I was going to brand my talk it would be called, ‘Mature Startup,’” Feigin notes. “How do you take a mature brand and really inject and infuse a new type of enthusiasm and direction for a fan/customer base? The interesting thing is, what we’re doing really mirrors what it’s like to manage a startup company and what needs to be done organizationally, process-wise, to build that brand.”

Register to attend IB’s Icons in Business breakfast on Tuesday, December 22.

Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine – your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.

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