In baseball terms, the Minnesota Twins and Target hit it out of the park with this week’s announcement of Target Field as the new name for the ballpark being built downtown.
The partnership unites two entities whose status as both businesses and civic institutions has contributed to the quality of life in the region for decades. The deal, set to run 25 years, should provide unique marketing continuity for the team.
That continuity used to be the norm in naming stadiums (think Chicago’s Wrigley Field) but more lately ballparks seem to have changed names as often as teams change managers (think Houston’s Enron Field, now Minute Maid Park).
The Twins’ goals, according to team President Dave St. Peter, were: "One, local, Minnesota-based; two, civic activation; three, philanthropy and community service; and, four, a company very consistent with the Twins brand and that family focus." Those attributes have often defined Target’s business behavior as well. The company is one of the state’s biggest employers and contributors to civic causes.
Not mentioned, but just as important, are Target’s marketing experts, who should help keep the ballpark full and — at least in some sections — affordable. As crucial will be Target’s use of its "design for all" positioning as a guiding principle in appropriately branding — but not overwhelming — the stadium.
There’s more to the deal than branding and naming rights. The team and Target will spend an additional $8 million to extend what will now be called Target Plaza all the way to First Avenue. This will create a unique public space incorporating Target Field as well as Target Center, and be close to a rail station that will eventually serve the Hiawatha, Northstar and Central Corridor lines, with room for expansion. The investment beyond Target Field and into the public space may be the biggest legacy of the deal. The plaza, ballpark and arena area can evolve into what Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak calls "ground zero for 21st century multimodal transportation — an outdoor Grand Central Station."
The city of Minneapolis can help ensure its success by finalizing the mayor’s proposed budget, which calls for $3 million to upgrade pedestrian and transportation infrastructure around the ballpark. The Twins have already agreed to spend an additional $15 million on infrastructure, on top of the $90 million authorized by the Legislature to create a space that works not only for game days, but every day.
Many understandably pine for the days when ballparks were named for teams, owners, citizens or cities. With rare exceptions, those days are gone, given the pricetag of parks — and players. The Twins’ current home, the Hubert. H. Humphrey Metrodome, bears the name of the former vice president, and it will be important that his legacy remains a part of the team. "Sen. Humphrey might have been our greatest fan ever," agreed St. Peter. "He’s always going to be deeply rooted in the history of the Twins. We haven’t finalized that yet, just in the same way we haven’t finalized how we honor Harmon Killebrew, Kirby Puckett and Rod Carew. I would add Sen. Humphrey to that list."
Less famous — but also worthy of honoring — are the many people who continue to make the entire Target Field project an excellent example of how public/private partnerships can best work in Minnesota.