Milwaukee is a city with a storied sports history. There’s a blend of professional and college sports that keep fans engaged year-round and you can bet they’ll be enjoying a cold beverage and cheering loudly for their teams.
The crown jewel of the Milwaukee sports scene is the Bucks, the 2021 NBA champions that feature two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks, whose other NBA title came in 1971, are a lot like the city they play in — both have been successful in the past but are thriving in the present.
In addition to the Bucks and their new arena, Milwaukee also has Major League Baseball’s Brewers as well as Marquette University and UW-Milwaukee University athletics. They all contribute to the vibrant scene the city has created, specifically in its downtown area.
“In Milwaukee, there’s something for every kind of sports event; it is a city of history, innovation and character,” said Marissa Werner, director of Sports Milwaukee. “Our new venues such as the Fiserv Forum, Deer District and the expanded Wisconsin Center District respect our city’s rich past while embracing the new. These new venues include historical tributes to our championship-filled past while making room for excellence in the future. The historical venues in Milwaukee provide a start-up space with their intimate atmosphere and intimate feeling while the newer venues allow for larger top-tier talent to perform in Milwaukee as a stop on their international tours.”
After exploring the city, it’s not surprising that Milwaukee was named one of National Geographic’s Best Places in the World for 2023.
The Bucks Stop Here
Fiserv Forum and the Deer District have transformed an area of downtown Milwaukee into several blocks of basketball and entertainment bliss.
Fiserv Forum, which opened in 2018, is a 730,000-square-foot palace that was the first new sports and entertainment arena built in Wisconsin since 2002. Unlike its predecessor, the Bradley Center, Fiserv Forum was not specifically designed to also host hockey games. This means that the arena can be much wider and it gives the feel of a larger open space than most NBA venues.
The capacity for Bucks games is more than 17,000 and for concerts the number swells to 18,000 with more than half of the seats — 10,000 — located in the lower bowl, meaning the majority of patrons have terrific sight lines. The venue hosts up to 200 events a year including the Bucks, Marquette men’s basketball, hockey, boxing, MMA and major concerts.
The Potawatomi Club Deck is located at the top of Fiserv Forum and offers tables and lounge areas for ticketed fans to relax during the game. The best view the arena offers may not be of the game, but instead the Milwaukee skyline at night. The Potawatomi Club features an outdoor terrace that shows off the city from up high.
In addition to its beauty and versatility, Fiserv Forum has been awarded with LEED Gold Certification. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, is the most widely used green building rating system in the world.
Deer District Hospitality
Before Fiserv Forum transformed the downtown scene, the surrounding area of the former Bradley Center didn’t offer much in the way of a gameday experience.
The 30 acres of surrounding land actually sat below the Park East Freeway. Then, in 2018, the Deer District was born.
The freeway was torn down and, in its wake, came dozens of shops and restaurants. Some of the restaurants include Punch Bowl Social, Drink Wisconsinbly Pub, Fat Tuesday, Gather, The Beer Garden and Mecca Sports Bar and Grill, transforming the space to a 365-day-per-year party scene.
The Deer District came alive when Marquette hosted Radford on November 7 in the Golden Eagles’ season opener. And when the Bucks are in town, things get even busier. During Bucks playoff games, fans flock to the Deer District whether they have a ticket to the game or not. The watch parties routinely draw more than 10,000 outside the arena.
“The Milwaukee Bucks, Fiserv Forum and Deer District were placed on an international stage during the 2021 NBA Finals, resulting in our Milwaukee Bucks being crowned NBA World Champions for the first time in 50 years,” Werner said. “Media showcased the city’s rich diversity and thriving downtown to billions of people who hadn’t considered Milwaukee as an electrifying sports town. The Milwaukee Bucks have continued activating Fiserv Forum and the Deer District with events all year long, including USA Gymnastics America’s Cup, PBR Tour, WWE and the NCAA Basketball Championships. These two venues are first-class and completely unique to Milwaukee. They have allowed Sports Milwaukee to reach a new audience and to expand on what is possible for Milwaukee.”
But like the rest of Milwaukee, the Deer District is always improving. The Trade Milwaukee Hotel, a nine-story luxury hotel, is currently being constructed across the street from Fiserv Forum and is expected to open in early 2023.
While The Trade is being installed on the north side of Fiserv, the south side of the Forum also has some big plans in store. Live Nation has gained approval to build a 4,000-seat concert venue in the vacant lot where the Bradley Center once stood. Construction is slated to kick off later this year and be done by late 2023, adding another reason for people to gravitate to the Deer District.
Brewing Something Special
While Fiserv Forum deservedly gets plenty of love in the downtown area, there’s another architectural masterpiece that sits a few miles west on I-94.
American Family Field — formerly known as Miller Park — opened in 2001 as the Milwaukee Brewers’ new home, taking the place of Milwaukee County Stadium.
The ballpark has a striking silhouette, thanks to North America’s only fan-shaped convertible roof, which can open and close in less than 10 minutes. Large panes of glass allow natural grass to grow, amplified with heat lamp structures wheeled out across the field during the offseason.
Despite being one of the smallest market teams in Major League Baseball, the Brewers have drawn more than 2.5 million fans per season on average since the 42,000-seat ballpark opened. The mascot, Bernie Brewer, has a club house beyond the left field seats that features a large, steep slide that Bernie uses after each home run and victory.
The stadium has hosted more than Brewers games over the years. It’s hosted international soccer matchups and on November 11, it saw the Wisconsin Badgers take on the Stanford Cardinal in a men’s basketball showdown, in addition to the Wisconsin women’s team battling Kansas State.
The court was built on the infield area, offering a unique venue for college basketball. The “Brew City Battle” drew a crowd of nearly 18,000 people.
“It was amazing to see the transformation of American Family Field and to give the Wisconsin Badgers men’s and women’s basketball teams a once in a lifetime experience,” Werner said. “Sports Milwaukee looks forward to partnering with the Milwaukee Brewers on many more unique events such as this.”
American Family Field hosts 200 non-baseball events each year. It also features the only fulltime golfing simulator in a sports stadium in the country — X Golf, which recently opened. It offers 98 percent accuracy to real golf and is certified by the PGA. Milwaukee also has seen the opening of Luxe Golf about 15 minutes west of the city, an entertaining option for golfers of all ages and skill levels.
For all the features inside American Family Field, there’s also something special outside. Helfaer Field, a youth baseball facility nestled right beside the ballpark, offers a place for Little Leaguers to play out their dreams. It was named in honor of the Evan and Marion Helfaer Foundation, which was founded in 1974. Evan Helfaer was an original investor in the Brewers.
Meet Me in Milwaukee
The expansion and construction in Wisconsin’s largest city doesn’t just include sports venues. The Wisconsin Center District is expanding the Wisconsin Center, a convention and exhibition hub located in downtown. The expansion project budgeted at $456 million will double the convention center space to a total of 445,000 square feet.
The venue will add 24 more meeting rooms for a total of 52, feature 400 indoor parking spots, a second ballroom to seat an additional 2,000 people and an outdoor wrap-around terrace on the upper level.
“Sports Milwaukee, along with VISIT Milwaukee, are grateful for the opportunity to embrace new larger and simultaneous events to our city with the Wisconsin Center District expansion,” Werner said. “In bringing the exposition hall to 300,000 contiguous square feet, sporting events that have excluded our venue spaces due to size requirements can now be welcomed into Milwaukee. We look forward to hosting competitions that have never been in our city, in addition to sports with non-traditional requirements.”
The Center is part of a greater complex of buildings that includes the UW–Milwaukee Panther Arena and the Miller High Life Theatre. It’s a two-block walk to the Deer District and will offer an enclosed bridge to the nearby Hyatt Regency Milwaukee, located across North Vel R Phillips Avenue. The venue has an existing skywalk connecting it to the nearby Hilton Milwaukee City Center as well. The grand opening is scheduled for early 2024 and Northstar Meetings Group will host TEAMS ’27 at Wisconsin Center on October 18–21, 2027.
Something For Everyone
While Milwaukee is forging a path toward present and future success, it also has the charm of a city of yesteryear. The Midwest hospitality doesn’t go unnoticed while encountering everybody from rideshare drivers to restaurant owners to high-level city officials.
If you’re in town for a sporting event, conference or on vacation, there’s a diverse culture in Milwaukee.
The historic architecture throughout the city stands out with many buildings, including City Hall, still standing after more than a century of use. Art fans should check out the Saint Kate Arts Hotel for an expressive experience.
The Pabst Theater was built in 1895 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1991. The Riverside Theater was built in 1928 and has seen performers ranging from Liberace to Kevin Hart to Neil Young. The Miller High Life Theatre was built in 1909 and renovated in the early 2000s. All three venues, which remain open for shows, offer incredible original architecture that transport you back a century.
There’s another noticeable theme in Milwaukee — beer. The city is home to 28 breweries, including the headquarters of Miller Brewing Company. A large part of the city’s history was founded on brewing beer, as Milwaukee was the home to Captain Frederick Pabst, who during the late 1800s ran the largest brewery in the world.
There are plenty of local brews to sample and you can still tour the Pabst Mansion and parts of the original Pabst headquarters that have been preserved.
The Bronzeville District was the primary Black economic and social hub of Milwaukee from the early 1900s to the 1960s. Today, the area features many Black-owned businesses, including the Black Holocaust Museum. Bronzeville is filled with culture — and good food. Be sure to check out the Pepper Pot for excellent Jamaican cuisine.
If motorcycles are your thing, the Harley-Davidson Museum is located in Milwaukee and displays bikes from every decade along with historic info about them. Seeing the evolution of the world’s most famous motorcycle in one place is a can’t-miss experience.
If you plan a Milwaukee trip during the summer months, you may be lucky enough to catch Summerfest, one of the largest concert events in the world. The Summerfest grounds are located along the coast of Lake Michigan, featuring 12 stages and an amphitheater that host more than 440,000 guests over the nine days of music and festivities.
Regardless of the reason you visit Milwaukee, there is something interesting on every corner. It’s the rare city that respects its past while also making moves for an improved future.