Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl has a plan to keep the franchise in Milwaukee.
And Kohl is willing to roll up his sleeves to make it work.
The 78-year-old Kohl, who has owned the Bucks for nearly three decades, said Monday he is seeking additional ownership partners who are strongly committed to keeping the team in Milwaukee for the long term.
In a meeting at his office in downtown Milwaukee, Kohl said he has retained Steve Greenberg, managing director of New York-based Allen & Co., to advise him on the search for new partners.
"We want to have as broad an interest as there is," Kohl said in an interview. "But there are these conditions. Anybody who is brought into ownership, if and when it happens, has to be committed fully to keeping the team here.
"This has been one of my lifelong interests, the NBA and Milwaukee. And there is no way I would allow people under the Milwaukee Bucks tent unless they have full level of commitment to keeping the team here."
He said no negotiations are underway with any parties at this time and he is just beginning the process.
"My primary interest is to strengthen this franchise and make it even more certain that the Bucks will stay in Milwaukee," Kohl said.
"I'm a single individual and I've had the team now for almost 29 years. And I'm not going to live forever.
"I believe that adding to ownership provides more strength, more stability, more certainty.
"Just by way of an off-the-wall thought, if I were hit by a bus tomorrow, people might wonder, 'What's going to happen to the Bucks?'"
He said he could not say whether the search for investors might lead to him giving up majority ownership of the team.
"We'll see how the process plays out and where I fit into that," Kohl said later at a news conference at the team's training facility in St. Francis. "I'll figure that out. My interest is in Milwaukee, the Bucks staying here, getting to a new facility, a brighter future, a better future. It's all about hope. How I can fit in and be productive I will."
Kohl, who served four terms as a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, has owned the Bucks since March 1985, when he purchased the team from Jim Fitzgerald. In the 28 seasons since, the Bucks have had 11 winning seasons and reached the playoffs 14 times. In the 13 years since they last reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001, they've had just two winning seasons.
Kohl said he doesn't have a projected number of partners in mind.
Marc Ganis, a Chicago-based sports consultant, said Kohl's announcement was his way of reducing or exiting his role "with the condition that the team stays in Milwaukee."
"That has been the word in the industry," Ganis said.
Ganis said that by insisting the team remain in Milwaukee, Kohl reduces the value of his asset. "He knows by bringing in partners, he reduces the value. He is selling a percentage of one-30th of the NBA. That is what someone is buying into," Ganis said.
Ganis said Kohl could also bring in someone else to run the franchise. "But there is no question he is being financially selfless," Ganis said.
Kohl said the team's future without doubt is tied to having a new arena to play in and any new investors must be committed to that.
"How do we make certain that the Bucks stay here?" Kohl said. "They can only stay in Milwaukee if they have a place to play. Otherwise it's empty talk."
Civic discussions on a strategy to construct a new downtown arena to replace the aging BMO Harris Bradley Center are in the early stages.
Kohl repeated what he has said in the past, that he would make a "significant contribution" to the funding for a new arena.
"I have not changed that," Kohl said. "Full owner or part owner, my commitment stands."
Kohl was asked his reaction to recent governmental actions in surrounding counties with respect to a new arena and refusal by those counties to be subject to a regional tax.
"It's part of the equation," Kohl said. "I believe ultimately when we get to a new facility there needs to be a healthy private sector contribution, in addition to what may or may not be needed from the public sector.
"But I think there needs to be a demonstration to the public that there are private interests willing to step up. I think there will be a greater likelihood of public acceptance of some level of support if there is a healthy private component.
"And I'm trying to put all these pieces together in a way that makes sense for the future of the Bucks in Milwaukee."
In his news conference, Kohl reiterated there needs to be "a robust private contribution to a new building" and that will be discussed with prospective owners.
"If we can get that, we have a chance then to go to public venues and say, 'Will you please consider supporting what we're already supporting?'" Kohl said. "I think if there were no or minimal private financing, it might be a very tough hill to climb. Whether I'm an owner or I won't be an owner, conceivably, I'm saying I believe in the need for this. I believe in downtown development and as a community citizen I'm going to put a contribution in this."
Kohl said he hopes the search for potential investors in the team can take place in "a disciplined and organized way" and he is relying on Allen & Co. to handle all inquiries.
Kohl indicated the firm advised him when he considered selling the Bucks to a group led by Michael Jordan in 2003, and the firm also advised Bud Selig as commissioner of baseball when the Milwaukee Brewers were sold to Mark Attanasio's group in 2005.
Among the names of possible business partners is Craig Leipold, owner of the National Hockey League's Minnesota Wild and connected to the S.C. Johnson fortune. Leipold, from Racine, said earlier this year that he "would like to be part of the solution" to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee. "If it means working with people, I will raise my hand up and be one of those guys who help out," he said in April.
Other prominent names in the conversation might include former Bucks star Junior Bridgeman, who is full or partial owner of as many as 196 Wendy's fast-food franchises; Jon Hammes, the founder and managing partner of the Hammes Co., a health care consulting firm; and businessman Ted Kellner, who has taken a strong leadership role on the new arena board and has been a strong benefactor of University of Wisconsin-Madison athletics, like Kohl.
Kohl was asked about Selig and whether he might be involved in some way in the future with the Bucks franchise.
Selig brought a major-league baseball franchise to the city and served as Brewers owner before eventually becoming commissioner. He is retiring as commissioner at the end of the 2014 season.
"I see him all the time," Kohl said. "I saw him Saturday. I've had no discussions with him.
"I know he will be helpful to the extent he can be because he believes in sports, Milwaukee. Is he likely to buy into this thing? No. That's my surmise.
"He wouldn't be a likely candidate for investment. At his stage in life and with the career he's had and how it's winding down in baseball, would he want to start getting involved in owning another franchise? No."
Kohl was also asked about Attanasio.
"I wouldn't speak for anybody," Kohl said. "I would not want to include or exclude anybody."
A source familiar with Kohl's thinking on the future of the franchise said the fact the former senator brought in Allen & Co. suggests Kohl is looking for partners who would first invest as a minority partner with an eye toward buying the team.
"There's plenty of people willing to put in $10 million or $15 million," the source said. "But anytime Allen is involved it's people who would want to own the team."
Kohl's primary goal, the source said, is not just to bring in new ownership partners, but perhaps people with the financial means to contribute financing for a new arena.
"The senator wants to keep the team here, and he wants to maintain his legacy," the source said.
An executive with a sports consulting firm who is familiar with Allen & Co. said anything could happen.
"Sometimes you start down the path in this kind of thing and you end up doing something different," the executive said. "More likely what happens is Allen will be testing the waters and seeing what interest there is and finding out what is doable and not doable. And then the client makes a judgment."
The executive said that, in general, "it is easier to find someone to sell control than to find limited partners. Oftentimes, somebody starts out intending to sell limited partnerships but discovers they are ready to sell, and they sell control. Who knows what will happen?"
The executive said there is little doubt Kohl will see interest.
"From what we've seen there is a great deal of interest in owning an NBA franchise," the executive said.
According to Forbes magazine, which annually reports the value of NBA franchises, the Bucks are worth $313 million. In September, NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver said the fact the Sacramento Kings were sold for $534 million means that should be the floor for future franchise sales.
An NBA franchise is a solid investment, Kohl insisted, and can be successful in a smaller market.
"To me, bottom line, Milwaukee is and can be an NBA town," he said. "We're not New York, Chicago or Los Angeles.
"There are some considerations regarding the fact some of these smaller markets have no other sports activity. The only pro sports in town is a basketball team.
"We're a multisport (town). The Packers are almost like they were playing here in Milwaukee, in addition to the Brewers.
"But the economics of the NBA have now been set up, and it's recent, with the new collective bargaining agreement and the revenue-sharing program, so that even the smaller markets can make money. And we now do. We're not hugely, but we're profitable."
Kohl referred to the collective bargaining agreement negotiated in 2011 when the season was shortened by an owner-imposed lockout. The 2011-'12 season was reduced to 66 games.
"That's a very good development for the NBA that all 30 teams have the ability to be profitable," Kohl said. "That makes the economics of owning an NBA franchise more attractive.
"It didn't used to be true, but now it's true. So we may draw whatever in Milwaukee and they draw almost twice as much in bigger markets but Milwaukee can be a profitable NBA venture as well as bigger markets.
"The question is Milwaukee viable as an NBA market? Yes, absolutely."
NBA Commissioner David Stern released a statement of support for Kohl's plan.
"They know what we're doing," Kohl said of league officials. "They're supportive. They want to see us succeed."
Asked about a reasonable timetable for finding additional owners, Kohl quipped, "What time is it? No, it will take awhile. It's not going to happen in a week or two weeks.
"Naturally everybody who is involved in activities is sort of impatient, and so is the NBA. We'd like to see progress."
Kohl clearly was thinking about the future Monday as he announced his plans.
"You might ask, 'Are you talking to us today because you're 5-19?' First of all, it breaks my heart," he said of the Bucks' poor record, the worst mark in the Eastern Conference.
"But the answer is no, I'd be having the same conversation if we were 19-5.
"We could be sitting here last year or next year, but at this time frame of my life it becomes part of my own life's story. 'What about the Bucks? What about the next generation? What are you going to do to provide for that?'"