Basketball took center stage — or rather, center ice — Thursday as the Minnesota Lynx announced they will play their 2017 home schedule at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
The event to announce the temporary move took place on the Xcel arena floor, with the ice removed and the scoreboard lowered to floor level with “Welcome Lynx” displayed.
“When I walked in here, I thought, ‘How amazing,’ ” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “I’ve been in the WNBA a long time and have seen NBA teams go through renovations and, therefore, WNBA teams get displaced. I have to tell you, in the history of the WNBA, we’re the luckiest team to have this as our alternate facility. It’s just perfect for us.”
Target Center, home of the Timberwolves and Lynx, will close after the 2016-17 Timberwolves season to renovate the lower bowl and replace the scoreboard. It is scheduled to reopen for the Timberwolves’ 2017-18 season.
Lynx President Chris Wright said the team looked at numerous venues.
“We went through really extensive process, looking at every facility from U.S. Bank Stadium to Williams [Arena] to Mariucci to the [Minneapolis] Armory to here,” Wright said. “In the end, we’re an arena sports team. This was the arena that best fit what we’re always doing.”
The Lynx have the largest season-ticket base in the WNBA, and Wright said the team hopes to keep its Minneapolis fan base intact while adding new fans from the St. Paul area.
“We planning on some open houses, some select-a-seat processes, to bring them into the arena to look at comparable seats they have in Target Center versus over here,” Wright said. “We’re excited because the Target Center seats about 8,000 [in the lower bowl] while the lower bowl configuration here is about 10,000.”
He said the move to Xcel will dent team finances but won’t adversely affect the bottom line.
“The base lease fee here is a little bit more expensive than it was in Target Center,” Wright said. “Fortunately, we’re in a healthy position as a franchise. This is the deal we wanted to do, and we’re in the location we want to be.”
One of the perks of the Xcel Center was the scoreboard, which will serve as a model for the new scoreboard at Target Center. “It will give our fans a great opportunity to experience what we will have in Target Center,” Wright said.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman was understandably excited about bringing the Lynx to St. Paul, even if only for one season.
“It’s going to be a fun year, especially when you have that many more people coming into downtown during the summer when the Wild aren’t playing,” Coleman said. “We’re going to be full — we’ll have the [St. Paul] Saints at one end of town and the Lynx and all of the concerts they have over here. It’s going to be great for us and great for local businesses.”