Fixing the money problem

Periodically over the last couple years, the Milwaukee Athletics program has come under fire from people inside and outside the university for the deficit in their budget.  This summer alone, when none of the teams are on the field of play, they have been hit with a barrage of criticism three times: when the Journal-Sentinel claimed “the party is over,” when the UW System Board of Regents approved the $25 fee from students to build the arena, and just this past week, when members of the UWM Student Association decried the men’s basketball team’s trip to Italy.

I’m not really sure where all the animosity toward Milwaukee Athletics is coming from.  The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has a long-standing favoritism towards Marquette and Wisconsin, but those are at least understandable because both teams have large fan bases in Milwaukee.  I still think the article was over the top, mainly because none of the information in the piece was new to even the most casual fan in Milwaukee.

The student fee for the arena was a funny little bugger; then-SA official Kyle Duerstein and Student Affairs staffers were staunch supporters of the fee, going so far as to be the main proponents of the fee after then-athletic director George Koonce.  After Koonce was put on leave, support from Duerstein evaporated, and some in Student Affairs were no longer campaigning for the arena fee.  Why is that?  Duerstein claimed it was because the SA couldn’t justify spending all that money without the athletic department having serious leadership at the top.  Duerstein believed for many years that the athletic department needed a plan to fix their budget before the SFC should give them any money.  While it is true, Duerstein did push the economic feasibility of an arena on campus when he was a supporter; the fact that an arena immediately changes the program’s financial outlook is undeniable.  Duerstein, effectively, went back on his word.  And the SA eventually did support it, unanimously voting in favor of backing the student fee right before the UW System came to meet in June.

But the SA did come forward recently to bash the men’s basketball trip to Italy, claiming that it was sending a bad message in a poor economy.  It was almost as if all the bills started rolling in, and someone let the SA know that they needed to attack it.  I have no idea who is behind the SA’s protest, but I do know this: two years ago, when the economy was also in recession, the women’s basketball team went on a foreign trip as well.  Where was the SA then, giving their fellow Panthers in the athletic department a mouthful?  The answer is that no one complained, not from Student Affairs or from the Student Association.  People should be looking for ulterior motives; not from Travis Romero-Boeck, but from someone else.

Milwaukee Athletics can’t deny it; they are around $8 million in debt.  They need to cut down on spending, but in places where it’s AD money being spent; not the cash from donors.  We shouldn’t go to donors and tell them that we need to save money and not take it from them for trips to Italy; it’s disrespectful to take money they put in and put it somewhere else.

Instead of not taking the trip to Italy, they need to look for different ways to solve the budget problem.  With the athletics budget, you hear a lot of people talk about cutting spending here and cutting spending there.  Where has it led us?  The program is getting streamlined, sure, but we still have a budget shortfall.  Instead of suggesting we cut spending, people need to start suggesting ways the Athletic Department can make money, and then the AD needs to put it into action.

You know me, I’ve got the ideas.  I think about how to make Panther Athletics better constantly.  A lot of the time, my ideas aren’t viable.  These ideas, though, I think at least deserve to be shared.

1. Bring basketball home. I went over this extensively the other day as part of my slam of the Italy trip haters, so I won’t go into depth here.  But you need to realize the basic facts: athletics makes no money on concessions and parking at the Cell, the lease is for too much money considering we’re their only decent tenant and they’re the second-best basketball arena on the corner of 4th and State, and they don’t pay for any advances on the arena itself to justify our commitment.  Now that we have the money from students for their share of the arena, we need to begin the capital campaign and build this baby as soon as possible.

2. Merchandise. If the administration wants Milwaukee Athletics to keep up with its peers, then it has to allow them to open up revenue streams that are available at their peer institutions as well.  Schools like Butler, Northern Iowa and UIC are mid-majors that make money for their program off the sale of merchandise.  Wisconsin and Marquette each make a ton of money; granted, it’s doubtful that Milwaukee would reach that (although not out of the question considering the staggering size of our community), but at least schools in our level make it profitable.  Actually, pretty much every school I looked into makes at least some profit off of the sale of merchandise.

When Donna Shalala made UW take athletics more seriously, part of that was the pushing of the Wisconsin brand through merchandise.  The Badgers don’t make all their money off of tickets and donations, people spend a lot of money on Badger merchandise.  How often, every day, do you see that “Motion W” on a hat or a t-shirt?  It’s practically impossible to go out in public in Wisconsin and not see that.  And guess what; every time you do, you’re seeing advertising for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Wisconsin Badgers.

Right now, the only place to go for Panther apparel are the two bookstores, the university’s in the Union and the Panther Bookstore on Downer.  Both do pretty well for themselves in selling that stuff.  Now why not let athletics sell to its fans?  After the Sweet 16, the UWM Bookstore made an absolute killing off of merchandise with the Panther logo emblazoned all over it.  The athletic department did not see a dime, even though it was their basketball team that was making people want to buy the apparel.  At the very least, UWM should allow the Athletic Department to count all sales of Panther apparel at the UWM Bookstore as credit towards their bottom line, but that would be foolish because they have a way to make even more money staring them in the face.

What would it take to get a merchandise line started in Milwaukee Athletics?  The new logos (which the bookstore is selling on apparel) could be emblazoned all over apparel for sale at the athletics website; as it stands, most Panther fans, even the die-hards, have no idea we went out and got new alternate logos.  Imagine walking through the doors of the Klotsche Center; to the right there is the AD offices, with ticket windows at the front.  To the left, glass windows 12 feet high, stretching about two-thirds of the way to the stairs leading to the arena.  Inside the glass?  Pro shop, selling everything from apparel, hats, license plate frames, and golf bags, all carrying the Milwaukee Panthers logos.  Why not?  Because it would cost a bit of money?  Hey, the money made by selling this merchandise would far outstrip the initial cost, construction of the space, and hourly pay for one student from the ticket office to man the place 9 to 5 Monday through Friday.

I know the idea popped into several people’s heads that we would save even more money by not building something, just having it cordoned off.  The problem with that is you leave yourself wide open to theft, and as someone who works for Walgreens, a company obsessed with loss-prevention, I know that nothing kills the bottom line more than items that are stolen.  A second, smaller reason would be that it would look very professional, and wouldn’t need to be changed when construction begins on the arena itself, because it’s part of the pavilion.  Also, it’s a lot easier to lock a door than to carry all those stands to storage areas in the Klotsche Center.  Consider it the first cost of the new arena, except pay the money for the merchandise out of the budget.

How often do people who never even talk about sports come on the UWM Freak forum asking where to get a jersey, or shorts, or whatnot?  It’s frequent enough that it alone justifies the need for this merchandise shop; if casual fans are going out of their way to find a die-hards forum to ask about a Ricky Franklin jersey, it’s a dead giveaway that even non-die-hards want to wear the black and gold.

3. Move facilities under athletics. Steven Mohar is the head of Recreational Sports and Facilities, which manages the Klotsche Center and intramural sports.  I got to know Steven well when we both served on the Search and Screen Committee that recommended George Koonce be hired as athletic director to chancellor Carlos Santiago.  Well, you can’t win ’em all.  In public forums, Steven was concerned with how the athletic director viewed the relationship between athletics and facilities.  After all, the answer would have a large bearing on his job.  But we do have problems with facilities that go beyond the fact that we don’t have enough of them and they’re not good enough.  We have a serious problem with shared use, since many intramural sports use the Klotsche Center arena to house their games, whether it’s indoor soccer or dodgeball.  The problem is that basketball and other sports would like to have the time in that arena practice, and when intramurals take up a lot of time, intercollegiate athletics share the space.  This leads to almost comical cramping; at one time in the late winter, I saw men’s basketball on the main court, women’s basketball on a side court, baseball in the batting cages, track on, well, the track, swimming doing exercises along the side, and volleyball players going through workouts.  I’m not kidding at all.  This is what happens when there is “shared use.”  The sharing is between athletics and intramurals, when it should be between each sport and intramurals.  Oh, and intramurals uses the arena when there is a perfectly good, five-year-old gymnasium with several basketball courts just a hop, skip and a jump away.

By moving facilities under athletics, like it is at other state universities like Wisconsin, you streamline costs as well as get rid of this shared use garbage.  I’m sorry, but the dodgeball game can be played in the auxiliary gym.  They don’t need stands for futsal and badminton.  Facilities moving under the athletics side also leaves open the opportunity for…

4. Rent out the Klotsche. Why are there no high school tournaments at the Klotsche Center?  Why don’t we use the facility to make some scratch?  There are venues all around the city, yet at the size of the Klotsche Center’s basketball set-up, there aren’t very many like it.  We have promoters among our donor base who would be more than willing to work with the Klotsche Center to put on concerts in the facility, should their money be going to the athletic department.  Again, the Kohl Center is owned and run by the Wisconsin athletic department, and they put on concerts and the WIAA state championships in the venue.  Couldn’t we be putting on concerts and WIAA sectionals at the Klotsche Center?  Granted, we’re not going to get the cream of the crop as far as musicians are concerned, but there’s no doubt that we have a venue that musicians would be interested in.

I know that I’m just a student (for the next three weeks anyway), but these ideas aren’t just garbage.  Maybe they’re dumb, I don’t know.  But at least I’m coming up with these ideas.  A lot of what the SA is doing is finger pointing; it’s to the point where I pose this: we should be spending less money? All right, why don’t you come up with ideas for us to make money instead of keeping all routes closed for the athletic department to get themselves out of debt.


  1. Skrapheap

    August 2, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    Concerts in the Klotsche Arena? What are the acoustics like?

    i’m asking because i don’t know…i’ve never attended anything but athletic events in the Arena. If the acoustics are decent, concerts could work. Otherwise, you’ll have trouble getting anyone to book a concert there.

    • Jimmy Lemke

      August 2, 2010 at 1:23 pm

      I have attended a Second City production, as well as the Boogiemen concert at Panther Madness a couple years ago. Both had excellent sound.

  2. Pounce Panther

    August 2, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    take these ideas to the AD and see how far milwaukee can run with them.

    • Jimmy Lemke

      August 2, 2010 at 10:39 pm

      Don’t need to, they’re avid readers of PantherU!

  3. Michael

    August 3, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    YSU’s schedule is really not all that bad this year, with the exception of games against Malone and Wilberforce?! Still games at NC State, Akron, Kent… with home games against Buffalo, Toledo, Samford, etc.

    Not too too bad:

  4. Jimmy Lemke

    August 4, 2010 at 10:00 am

    Actually, it’s surprisingly decent. There’s one problem: this is the wrong article for that comment.

    I would still like to see games against Malone and Wilberforce cut out, and I also hoped you would have taken part in an early season tournament.

    St. Francis (doesn’t matter), Samford and Toledo will be RPI killers if you lose. Even though Toledo is MAC, they’re going to be awful next year.

  5. Joe Rice

    August 4, 2010 at 10:46 am

    to speak to your point #4…

    The U used to rent out the Klotsche for WIAA b-ball tourney sectionals. My junior/senior year 01/02 we played there losing to tosa east (1 of those being the Devin Harris and Scott Merrit teams)both times. I would imagine the WIAA left due to scheduling conflicts and that concessions suck. the next year they were held @ Whitefish Bay’s field house and now they’re at the McGuire center. I don’t think that we’d be able to pull the sectional back from MU’s campus until we have our new arena their facilities flat out kick the crap out of ours.

    I think in general our facilities are at such a low standard that it will difficult to rent out for the types of entertainment we want. Once we have a new venue things like pantherfest and other shows will be easier to come by.

  6. Jimmy Lemke

    August 4, 2010 at 10:48 am

    There are other sectionals in the area, not just one.

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