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Jim Gaffigan’s comedy will be featured in the first show announced for the new Milwaukee Bucks arena
Courtesy of Milwaukee Bucks

Jim Gaffigan won’t be doing his annual year-end residency at the Pabst Theater this December, but the comedian has already booked his next Milwaukee gig — at the Milwaukee Bucks’ new arena Sept. 22.

The 51-year-old will be the first comedian to play the $524 million facility, scheduled to open by September, ahead of the Bucks’ 2018-’19 season.

“With Jim being from the Chicagoland area, and (writing partner and wife) Jeannie from Milwaukee, it’s something we wanted to have,” said Raj Saha, general manager of the arena, tentatively called the Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center. 

Gaffigan’s show is the first concert announcement for the new arena, but it won’t be the first one at the venue, Saha said. The grand opening date and artist will be announced by the end of the year or early next year, Saha said, around the same time he expects to hire a full-time talent buyer for the venue. A second arena show announcement is expected by late October.  

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Update on the construction of the Milwaukee Bucks arena in downtown Milwaukee.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“We’re out there looking to program the building every night. That’s our goal,” said Saha, whose résumé includes management positions at the 02 Arena in London and Madison Square Garden in New York. “We know how important it is to not have dark days.”

Since 2007, Gaffigan has played the Pabst every December while spending the holidays with his family and in-laws in Milwaukee, amounting to nearly 30 sold-out shows, said Gary Witt, president of the Pabst Theater Group, which operates four venues in town, including the Riverside Theater, Turner Hall Ballroom and the Back Room at Colectivo Coffee.

During that decade, Gaffigan’s profile rose considerably, thanks to his books “Dad Is Fat” and “Food: A Love Story;” Grammy-nominated comedy albums “Jim Gaffigan: Mr. Universe” and “Obsessed;” and his TV Land series “The Jim Gaffigan Show,” co-written and executive produced by Jeannie. 

Gaffigan became popular enough for large theater residencies and arenas, making his appearances at the 1,300-capacity Pabst “extreme underplays,” said Pabst Group Chief Operating Officer Matt Beringer.  

“He felt it was important to keep that tradition going,” Beringer said, which would include occasional opening song-and-dance numbers by the Gaffigans’ five kids and Point Brewery selling a special “Jim Gaffigan Pale Ale” at the theater.

“By the time we got to the end of 10 years, it felt like the right time to take stock of what are some other things we could do in the city,” Beringer said. 

That led to the Bucks arena gig, with the Pabst Group acting as the promoter.

“Putting an artist that has been a longtime fixture of one of our buildings in an amazing new arena, we would not want to pass up an opportunity like that,” Beringer said. 

The arena show will be staged in the round, with about 15,000 seats available, Saha said. It’s a huge leap from the Pabst, but Saha is confident it will sell out.

“We think we’re in a pretty good position that we may be able to announce another Jim Gaffigan show,” Saha said.

Tickets, priced between $39.50 and $79.50, are available beginning at 10 a.m. Oct. 27 by calling (800) 745-3000 or visiting ticketmaster.com

Concert industry experts anticipate the new arena will benefit from a honeymoon period for a year or two, but it will be competing with venues in must-play Chicago for tours. 

From November 2013 to November 2016, the United Center had an average show gross of $1.3 million. The BMO Harris Bradley Center, current home of the Bucks, had an average show gross of $376,000 during that time frame, according to concert trade publication Pollstar.

Several elements at the new Bucks arena are designed to give it an edge; six enclosed loading docks could drive down stagehand costs, and with two-thirds of seats in the lower bowl, promoters could potentially charge higher ticket prices.

Saha and Bucks President Peter Feigin also took the unusual step of pitching the arena and market to four talent management firms in London last week while Feigin was there to speak at a conference.

“It’s always good to be proactive in promoting a new building, but I’m not sure how much effect it will have on bookings since the venue decision is nearly always left to the U.S. agent and promoter,” said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Pollstar. “That’s not to say that they couldn’t have had a meeting with someone, especially an artist manager, that could lead to a booking.”

Saha said no contracts were signed in London, but he’s confident that the meetings were productive.

“In the next couple of months, we’ll definitely be able to get a show out of this,” Saha said.

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