Timberwolves season ticket renewal notices normally go out to fans around the middle of January, which this year would have been during the early stages of what grew to be the team’s second double-digit losing streak since the start of December.
With optimism in short supply, Wolves Chief Operating Officer Ryan Tanke and others on the business side consulted with the basketball operations side and decided to push those renewal pleas into February — after the trade deadline. No promises were made, but President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas had pledged publicly to be aggressive in hopes of jump-starting the latest in the organization’s countless rebuilds.
What happened last week, then, was a happy marriage of basketball and business — one the Wolves hope will inject life not just on the court but in the stands, where lagging attendance has been a chronic issue.
Buoyed by an extensive roster makeover — just two players remain from when Rosas took over nine months ago, and many were swapped in a flurry of trade deadline deals last week — the Wolves had just their second sellout crowd of the season Saturday at Target Center when their new-look crew trounced the Clippers.
On Tuesday, the Wolves were finally ready to make their season ticket renewal pitch to their most loyal customers — longstanding and often long-suffering season ticket holders. In an aggressive plan released to the general public Wednesday, the Wolves offered three key pieces to fans who either renewed existing tickets or bought new ones for the 2020-21 season:
*50% off all food, beverage and retail purchases at Target Center, including alcohol, for the next two seasons.
*The flexibility to exchange tickets for games they can’t use for ones they can use later.
*And a pledge to not raise ticket prices next year and the year after.
The Wolves will offer about 1,000 lower-level season tickets at $23 per game (less than $1,000 per season) with upper level seats starting at $16. The 50% discount on food, drink and retail purchases (available while using the Timberwolves app, on which money can be loaded) is extremely rare in major pro sports.
These initiatives were in the works before Rosas delivered D’Angelo Russell and co. into the basketball mix, but the combination of the two has Tanke optimistic about building on a loyal but dwindling fan base.
The Wolves are last in NBA average home attendance this season (14,592), nearly 1,000 fans less than the next-lowest team. They were third from the bottom a year ago, when early-simmering Jimmy Butler drama boiled over in a tumultuous fall.
That tension and subsequent 36-win season squashed any momentum gained in 2017-18 when the Wolves averaged north of 17,000 fans — the first time since Ricky Rubio’s rookie year in 2011-12 they had eclipsed that modest benchmark at an arena with room for a couple thousand more.
The Wolves had 8,500 full season ticket holders (a number that includes partial season tickets, such that two half-season ticket buyers combine to count as one) in Butler’s playoff year. In the midst of that season, the Wolves raised season ticket prices for 2018-19 and hoped to keep growing their base with sustained success.
Instead, the team and the season ticket number regressed; this year, there are just 6,500 full season tickets sold, Tanke said — accounting almost perfectly for the overall drop in average attendance from 2017-18 to this year.
Suddenly, though, the Wolves have the most to sell — my words, not theirs — since the failed Butler experiment. But they’re also starting from a place where they have to win a lot of people over given their 16-36 record and rebuilding (again) status.
Tanke is optimistic that the incentives plus enticing basketball will push that 6,500 number considerably higher in 2020-21, and the final 30 games this season (15 at Target Center) will be somewhat of a proving ground.
“We think this is a next step,” Tanke said.
There figures to be a big crowd Wednesday night for Russell’s home debut against Charlotte — he missed Saturday’s game with a minor quad injury — since Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns bought 1,000 tickets apiece and distributed them free to fans (who in turn snatched them up quickly).
The first game out of the All-Star break is a Friday night Target Center matchup with the Celtics, while the next home game after that is two Sundays later against Dallas, giving the Wolves a chance to stack up some strong performances and big crowds.
Maybe the Wolves can get fans in the building and keep them there for a sustained stretch — something that hasn’t been done in any meaningful way since Kevin Garnett was in his prime.
It’s food for thought, at half-price.