Giannis Antetokounmpo, #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks, is defended by Al Horford #42 of the Philadelphia 76ers during a game at Fiserv Forum on February 22, 2020 in Milwaukee.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Giannis Antetokounmpo, #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks, is defended by Al Horford #42 of the Philadelphia 76ers during a game at Fiserv Forum on February 22, 2020 in Milwaukee. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

“This is the best news of 2020,” says a service workers union head.

Service workers and businesses in the Milwaukee Bucks’ home Deer District had a particularly rough go of 2020 after COVID-19 shut down the NBA season in the midst of one of the Bucks’ best seasons ever.

Throw in Giannis Antetokounmpo’s impending free agency and wishy-washy commitment to re-sign with the Bucks, and the year was set to close out a lot worse if the two-time MVP decided to take a deal with a team in a bigger market.

So that’s why it was “unequivocally good news” when the Greek Freak on Tuesday signed a five-year, $228 million contract extension, according to Peter Rickman, executive director of the Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization, the union that represents service workers at the Bucks’ Fiserv Forum.

“Oh God, this is the best news of 2020 for our members,” Rickman said.

Antetokounmpo’s extension means at least five more years of good basketball in Milwaukee, and increased ticket sales and tourism to go along with it. It also brings stability and opportunity for growth for businesses and workers in the area after a turbulent economic period that may have cost pro sports markets as much as $5.5 billion nationwide.

Not only did COVID-19 cancel the NBA season until it eventually resumed in the “Disney Bubble” in Florida, but it also forced the hugely impactful Democratic National Convention to move online in another blow to downtown Milwaukee businesses. 

The DNC was originally set for the Fiserv Forum before it was downsized and moved to the Wisconsin Center. By the time August rolled around and the convention was all but canceled, the DNC’s impact on the local economy was just $3 million, a shadow of its originally anticipated $200 million in economic activity.

“At the end of what was a really rough year for sports and entertainment in Milwaukee, this was a great Christmas present for all of us,” said Steve Baas, vice president of governmental affairs for the Metropolitan Milwaukee, in response to news of the contract extension.

As of 2019, about 3,000 people worked in the Fiserv Forum and surrounding Deer District businesses, according to WTMJ. About 1,000 of those are in Rickman’s union.

“Our members and people who work in the service and hospitality industry had as much riding on this contract decision as anyone,” Rickman said.

The business impact of Antetokounmpo’s extension cannot be overstated on a smaller NBA market like Milwaukee, which does not have as diverse or large an economy as many other cities with high-profile basketball teams. Baas said Antetokounmpo will serve as a draw for years to come.

“Pro sports have an outsized importance in a market like Milwaukee, and keeping top-flight basketball here has ripple effects,” Baas said. “Every time Giannis and the Bucks are on TV, it is a free commercial for Milwaukee to the entire world.”