Like just about everyone else in Milwaukee, the denizens of the Milwaukee Bucks’ business offices were undeniably excited when news broke that the Bucks had acquired seven-time National Basketball Association All-Star Damian Lillard on a late September afternoon.
Unlike the rest of Milwaukee, though, there was little time to celebrate the latest roster addition. Instead, it was time to get to work.
“Within a few minutes of (the trade becoming public), I circulated a kind of tactical email of my thoughts,” Bucks president Peter Feigin said. “Probably 90% was about ‘what does this mean’ in terms of an a ripple effect on ticket sales, ticket pricing, ticket plans; what were we going to do to activate on the ground and our ability to market (Lillard).”
Among the first orders of business, the Bucks knew they needed to produce merchandise — and they needed to do it quickly. With a number of blank jersey shells on-hand, the organization as able to start producing Lillard jerseys within moments of the announcement while calls to Nike’s
The quick action paid off as the team sold approximately 2,500 Lillard jerseys within the first few days of the trade.
“That’s just an enormous number,” Feigin said. “And that’s just the Bucks. That doesn’t include the NBA or Fanatics (the league’s merchandising partner).”
A large number of those jerseys were sold thanks to another piece of quick thinking by the team’s marketing staff, which came up with the idea to host a “welcome rally” for Lillard as he came to town to begin the next chapter of his career.
Several thousand fans turned out on short notice and despite having to wait a few hours due to flight delays left, their enthusiasm left a positive impression on the Bucks’ new superstar addition.
“Every time I’ve been to Milwaukee in my career, I’ve just stayed in the hotel the whole time because it’s snowing or something like that,” Lillard said at the team’s annual media day event. “Seeing the sun out and being by water (Lake Michigan), it made me smile a little bit. Like, man, this could be all right.”
Ultimately, Lillard was brought to Milwaukee to help the Bucks win another championship after they followed their 2021 title with a pair of disappointing early playoff exits.
Still, the NBA is a business. Fegardless of their individual wealth, team owners aren’t in the business of losing money. They want a return on their investment, especially when it comes to going even further beyond the league’s luxury tax threshold and even moreso when playing in the league’s smallest market.
In that regard, Milwaukee’s quartet of primary owners — Wes Edens, Jamie Dinan and Dee and Jimmy Haslam, who purchased Marc Lasry’s share over the summer — can’t help but be pleased with the early returns.
Since the trade was announced on Sept. 27 — almost exactly one month prior to the season opener — the Bucks sold more than 1,500 ticket packages including a whopping 250 full-season plans.
“By that point of the offseason, we’d sold probably 70-75% of our ticket inventory (for the 2023-24 season),” Feigin said. “A majority of the inventory when you’re a highly competitive team is sold before you tip off and once you tip off, you’re starting to sell the playoffs and the next season.
“So this was a real shot in the arm for the beginning of October. When you sell 1,500 in ticket packages, you’re looking at a few million dollars in revenue.”
As impressive as those numbers are, the really eye-opening numbers are on the digital side.
In the month since the trade was announced, the team’s social media channels added more than 200,000 followers while generating nearly 100 million impressions, more than 31 million video views while engaging more than 5.7 million different users along with a more than 500% increase in traffic to Bucks.com.
Put it all together and it created a post valuation of $3.4 million, a number that will only increase as Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks chase another title.
“What this does for us on a national and global level,” Feigin said. “Dame is one of the most recognized and most-followed players in the league and (sponsorship and corporate partners) care about what their association with the Bucks brand equate to impressions and association and that’s what this does.
“Those are numbers that just aren’t possible unless you acquire one of the top players in the NBA.”