MILWAUKEE — A sell-out game is expected Tuesday night as the Milwaukee Bucks open their season and hoist the championship banner. It is a long way from where the Bucks started when Giannis Antetokounmpo was just a rookie. Booming merchandise sales and massive crowds are now just part of the "Giannis effect" the Bucks and Milwaukee are enjoying.
“We drove eight hours to see Giannis,” said Kevin Gonzalez, who came with his friends from Pennsylvania.
“He won the championship and we just wanted to come over here and support him,” said David Suazo, who drove with Gonzalez.
Giannis has been with the Bucks since 2013. Even the Bucks Chief Marketing Officer, Dustin Godsey, says before the Greek Freak came to Milwaukee, things were not good for the team.
“It is night and day in all honesty. It is not even apples to apples to compare what it was before he came to what we are seeing now,” said Godsey.
In 2014, just after the Bucks acquired Giannis, the team was sold for $550 million. Forbes ranked the Bucks at the time as the lowest value team among the 30 teams in the league. Currently, Forbes has quadrupled the value of the team to $1.9 billion.
“It is really incredible to go from seasons where we would sell out one or two games based on the opponent that was coming in, to really being the place. We are even seeing it throughout the league where we are one of the highest selling road teams,” said Godsey.
The team says the Bucks are just behind the L.A. Lakers for road team sales. On top of that, the NBA says Giannis’ jersey sales are now ranked as number 2 in the league, up from number 5 in March of 2021. Bucks merchandise sales is also up overall. It is now ranked number 4 up from number 10.
Greek journalist Harris Stavrou, who works for Sport24, has covered Giannis since he was drafted by Milwaukee. He says the difference in our city is profound.
“I see the Giannis effect in Milwaukee. My first visit in town was back in 2016, and now I see so many differences. The city is blooming. The area is beautiful,” said Stavrou.
Just in the playoffs alone, the Bucks generated $1.1 million in local taxes, according to Visit Milwaukee. Overall, $57.6 million was generated during that run.
“I remember I couldn’t find a hotel to stay because it was at full capacity,” said Stavrou.
And now Harris says thanks to Giannis, Milwaukee has become an inspirational place for people from Greece to visit.
“I know so many people who want to travel and come in Milwaukee. Most of them didn’t know Milwaukee existed like 10 years ago. Now everybody is thinking about Milwaukee. I know TV shows about tourism in Greece that want to visit Milwaukee. So it is one of the most famous cities in the states right now for the Greeks,” said Stavrou.
But you don’t have to be Greek to make a special trip. The guys from Pennsylvania brought along their friend, who is originally from Puerto Rico.
“I like Giannis,” said Daniel David.
"It was COVID, couldn't see him last year. We decided to travel up this year,” said Suazo.
They couldn’t even wait to put on his jersey after they bought it.
“The tags are still on it. Fresh, brand new," said Gonzalez while showing off his Giannis jersey.