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Fiserv Forum GM lifts lid on delivering under-budget Fiserv Forum

A stadium construction project can run into difficulty if the design is allowed to dictate the business plan, rather than vice-versa, according to Raj Saha, the General Manager of the Fiserv Forum.

The venue opened last August nearly a month earlier than scheduled and, with a final price tag of $524m (£420m/€466m), some $11m under budget.

Saha explained to TheStadiumBusiness.com that the key to the project’s success was having clear decision-making responsibilities which helped stakeholders to “buy into” the new ethos of the franchise, which had changed owners in 2014.

“We all knew the business plan,” Saha said. “We had to have 43 basketball games, 18-20 college basketball games, 10 other sporting events and 25 concerts every year, so the design had to blend into the business plan.

“The business plan has to dictate the design, not the other way around, and I think that’s where there is a gap sometimes with other developments.”

Saha added that unannounced site visits every single day helped to keep everyone on their toes, with individuals given direct responsibility for overseeing specific elements of the development and operational preparations ensuring that personal accountability was high on the agenda.

“We ran a very tight structure and all of the changes had to be run internally,” he added. “You need to make a decision and live with it.

“These days you have to future-proof a stadium when you build it. If something isn’t working, you scrap it and move on.”

As part of the project, the number of premium suites was reduced. However, as Saha pointed out, the “overall premium was increased”, ensuring more sell-outs.

“We want the building to be full every night and we had to sell ‘FOMO’ – the fear of missing out,” he added.

Following the Milwaukee Bucks’ decision to hire 60% of staff from selected zip codes with low employment – and pay them $15 per hour, more than double the US minimum wage – other venues in the city and state were forced into action to remain competitive. Now $15 per hour rates for front-line, customer-facing staff is commonplace, raising living standards for many across the area.

Additionally, staff at the arena have also been challenged to come up with fan-friendly initiatives. One of the ideas – high-five lines for every fan in the building – is a conspicuous example of one of the proposals being put into action successfully.

“We often talk internally about being the caretakers in the community,” Saha said. “The Bucks aren’t just about wins and potential ticket sales; we are about how we impact the city as a whole and it pays dividends when you end up with an event like the 2020 Democratic National Convention.”

Image: Fiserv Forum