The Oshkosh Northwestern — sorry, “USA Today Network–Wisconsin” — has interesting news:
Windward Wealth Strategies, an Oshkosh wealth management firm, is competing against other cities to bring a Milwaukee Bucks D-League farm team to Oshkosh. The group has been in talks with the Bucks for about a year.
If a deal is reached, the basketball club would be the first professional team to play in Oshkosh since the Wisconsin Flyers disbanded in 1987.
To make it happen, Windward would need to build a 3,500-seat stadium for the team, said Greg Pierce, president of Windward Wealth Strategies. The group is scouting locations for the venue with the Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corporation (GO-EDC) and the city of Oshkosh.
Windward, working with local stakeholders, has responded to a Bucks bid for the project and will submit plans at the end of June. The project would be funded entirely with private money at a cost upward of $4 million, Pierce said.
The chosen city would likely see an economic boost from 24 home games in the dead of winter, when tourism spending drops for many Wisconsin cities, Pierce said.
“Oshkosh has a long history of supporting basketball,” Oshkosh City Manager Mark Rohloff said during a city council meeting Tuesday. “There’s a lot of excitement that’s being generated because of this.”
The push to bring a Bucks farm team to Oshkosh comes as the Bucks franchise is working to keep pace with the growing trend of D-League teams in the NBA.
Since the D-League’s first season in 2001-02, only eight players made the jump from the minors to the big leagues. But last season, 40 percent of pros began their career with a farm club team. Only 11 of 30 NBA teams, including the Bucks, are without a D-League team.
In a statement to USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin, the Bucks said a farm team would be an important addition, but plans for that are still in the early stages. The team hopes to launch a farm team by fall 2017.
“While there is no immediate timetable for an announcement, we are excited to learn more about the cities throughout the region that have expressed an interest in welcoming the Bucks’ D-League affiliate to their community,” the statement said.
Unlike baseball, NBA D-League teams often drop roots within a short drive of the pro club’s headquarters, though the Bucks also have the option of forming a farm team out-of-state.
The bucks would likely seek out a D-League site somewhere in Wisconsin to build a fan base outside Milwaukee and Madison, Pierce said.
The Bucks have not announced the cities that have expressed interest.
Pierce, though, is confident that his group will beat out plans in other cities.
“My belief is that Oshkosh is the right fit for a D-League team,” he said. “We are better organized, better funded and have a better plan than other communities.”
Readers of a certain age may remember the Continental Basketball Association and its Wisconsin Flyers, which played at, from what I am told, in approximate chronological order Oshkosh West High School, UW–Oshkosh’s Kolf Sports Cave — I mean Center, Oshkosh North High School, Neenah High School and Appleton East High School. (The Bucks formerly played “home” games at the UW Fieldhouse and the Dane County Coliseum in Madison when there were Milwaukee Arena conflicts, so having more than one home arena per season isn’t unheard of, though it is certainly not the preferred arrangement.)
The CBA was not directly tied to the NBA (in fact the CBA predated the NBA), but a number of NBA coaches (including former Bucks coach George Karl, Bulls and Lakers coach Phil Jackson, and Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders) got their coaching starts in the CBA. The CBA also featured the innovation (which didn’t stick elsewhere) of awarding standings points not only for winning games, but for winning quarters, presumably intending to keep fans watching during blowouts.
(Small world alert: The first year I announced Ripon College games I worked with the Flyers’ former announcer. He had some interesting stories to tell about the Flyers. He also had the grueling task of announcing the road games, because their station didn’t carry home games. Being a road announcing warrior is grueling, as I can attest.)
Ten years after the Flyers flew to Rochester, Minn., Keary Ecklund of Ecklund Logistics got a franchise, the Wisconsin Blast, in the International Basketball Association, at the same time that Ecklund started the Green Bay Bombers in the Professional Indoor Football League. The Blast played one season at the Brown County Arena and, I believe, one season at UW–Fox Valley. Their first coach was Pat Knight, son of Bob, who I interviewed for a story in my previous life as a business magazine editor. Knight was a good interview, and, I discovered while covering the Blast’s first game, out of print had a vocabulary similar to his father’s. The Blast moved after two seasons to Rapid City, S.D., as the Black Hills Gold, and then moved to Mitchell, S.D., to become the South Dakota Cold (not, sadly, Corn Kings), and then disappeared into the sports franchise afterlife.
Around the time of the Blast’s founding, there were proposals in the Fox Cities to build a small arena to hold not only a sports team, but such events as the Fox Cities Business Expo (which was at the Tri-County Arena in Neenah, an ice arena). So it’s interesting that this proposal is based in Oshkosh, a smaller area population-wise (and for that matter already possessing an arena that you’d think would be D-League size) than the Fox Cities. The fact I’m writing this should prove that no group in the Fox Cities managed to get its act together to build an arena for the Blast or any other team.
I wonder how well this is going to work in Oshkosh, if that’s where the D-Bucks end up. Given the Fox Cities’ greater size and lack of a larger college team (Lawrence University is in Appleton, but private NCAA Division III schools obviously have smaller fan bases than UW System schools), that seems a more logical place were it not for the arena issue, and as it is a new arena apparently will be built for the D-Bucks anyway.