How Sports Have Built Milwaukee’s Brand

Pro Teams, Famous Athletes, and Great Sports Venues Are Part of Milwaukee’s Identity

There is no shortage of icons that are synonymous with Milwaukee: Beer-boiled brats. Cream City brick. Summer festivals. The Hoan Bridge. But if the summer of 2021 has taught us anything, it’s that the city’s brand is increasingly centered on sports. The success of local teams and the enthusiastic support of fair- and not-so-fair-weather fans have become as much a part of “the Good Land” as, well, a tailgate is part of a sporting event. Let’s take a look at some of the many ways that sports put Milwaukee’s brand on the map.

Milwaukee’s Professional Sports Shape Its Brand

Milwaukee is home to two Big Four teams–the Bucks (basketball) and the Brewers (baseball)–and a smattering of other pro and minor league sports teams, including the Admirals (hockey), the Brew City Bruisers (roller derby), and Wave (soccer). On any given day, Milwaukee residents can attend some sort of game. And we do, in droves. Attending a live sporting event has become a ubiquitous pastime, regardless of whether you’re an ardent fan of the team. Milwaukeeans love to be where the action is, especially when a local team is on a winning streak.

The perfect example of how sports have shaped Milwaukee’s brand is the landmark 2021 NBA Finals win by the Milwaukee Bucks. Historically not the league’s or the state’s winningest team, the Bucks drew an astronomical fan base for their remarkable championship run. The effects of this “Bucks in Six” victory and its infectious energy have been profound:

These are just snapshots of how one sports team has shaped the face of the city in recent history. Milwaukee has been all over national and international media outlets as a result of the Bucks, showcasing the city’s brand and everything we love about living, working, and playing here.

The Olympic Games Put Milwaukee on the Map

When the Olympics come around, so does Milwaukee. The city has a long and storied history of offering up its athletes for the games. Notable Milwaukee-connected Olympians throughout the years include track athlete Al Kraenzlein, speed skaters Bonnie Blair and Dan Jansen, gymnasts Chellsie Memmel and Paul Hamm, and triathlete Gwen Jorgensen. In the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, several competitors had Milwaukee ties–most notably, Hartland native and local running phenomenon Molly Seidel, who took home bronze in the marathon (her third ever). Trials haven’t yet happened for the 2022 games in Beijing, but there’s a good shot that someone from Milwaukee will be there.

Beyond our homegrown athletes, Milwaukee also serves as a training ground for Olympic athletes. The Pettit National Ice Center is a nationally recognized venue for speed skaters of the highest caliber. The Pettit Center has played host to the Olympic Team Trials, drawing athletes from across the country, and will once again host in January 2022.

Milwaukee Builds Its Brand Through Playing Host

Beyond hosting the Olympic Team Trials for speed skating, Milwaukee is the chosen destination for a variety of high-profile sporting events and tournaments each year. The 2021 Ryder Cup, rescheduled from 2020, is taking place at Whistling Straits in Kohler, just north of Milwaukee. Other major sporting events located in or near the city include the U.S. Open, the USA Gymnastics Championship, the USA Fencing North American Cup, the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships, and early rounds of the NCAA Division I Basketball tournament. As each of these elite events chooses Milwaukee for its competition stage, the city’s brand only grows.

Why Milwaukee’s Focus on Sports Is Important

Having a successful hometown team is great, but what does it mean for businesses and the local economy? Actually, quite a lot. CBS reports that the Bucks’ Finals run generated more than $36 million in economic impact overall. Early estimates put the Ryder Cup’s economic impact near $135 million. High-profile brands create awareness, and awareness creates growth.

Wisconsin has long taken an approach of “if we build it, they will come” (to borrow the phrase), and it has largely paid off. High-caliber golf courses like Erin Hills and Whistling Straits attract professional tournaments. The Fiserv Forum, a substantial upgrade from the old Bradley Center, brings in all kinds of major events that the Bradley Center never could have attracted. The Deer District was a huge, risky venture that paid off big time with the Bucks’ winning record. Green Bay’s Lambeau Field is taking note and endeavoring to replicate the success with its Titletown District, making the venue a year-round draw, not just for sports fans. Building a brand, especially through infrastructure, is a substantial undertaking, but one that can have huge payoffs in the long run.

Milwaukee has established itself as a city of awe-inspiring athletes, diehard fans, and world-class sports venues. So much of the city’s brand and culture is so intertwined with its sports that the two are nearly synonymous. That’s what building a great brand is about: creating something that speaks to who you are and what experience you promise, and then blasting it out to the world. With a strong, unmistakable brand, your business is as sure to win as (dare we say it?) the fastest Racing Sausage at the baseball diamond.

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