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Target Field from the air.

David Brewster, Star Tribune

Reusse: The Twins must build roster or forget building the brand

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE
  • Star Tribune
  • July 1, 2012 - 8:45 AM

This is the Twins' sixth decade in Minnesota. The decade of 2001-10 belonged to the Twins more than any since they arrived on the Bloomington prairie and led the American League in average attendance from 1961 through 1970.

There were exceptions to this:

The Wild was big news when the NHL returned for the winter of 2000-01, and again when it made an unlikely playoff run in the spring of 2003.

The Timberwolves added Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell to Kevin Garnett for the 2003-04 season and reached the Western Conference finals.

The Vikings reclaimed most of the attention in August 2009, when they brought in Brett Favre for a glorious season before losing an exceptional NFC title game in the Louisiana Superdome.

The Twins also were not without detractors, with the inability to manage more than a whimper in the last five of six playoff appearances.

Still, it's hard to diminish a decade in which the Twins averaged 88 wins, reached the postseason in six of those seasons and lost a Game 163 in another.

The first nine of those seasons were played in the Metrodome, and the Twins averaged 1,887,521 tickets sold. That was a historically impressive stretch for indoor baseball in Minnesota.

The Twins moved into Target Field in 2010, broke out their version of Favre in Jim Thome, won 94 games, sold out 79 of 81 games and totaled 3,223,640 tickets, and then came disaster out of nowhere:

The 99 losses in 2011 -- and now a follow-up that has the Twins again standing as the worst team in the American League.

Halfway through the schedule, the Twins are 175,000 behind last season's attendance pace. They have 16 home games after Labor Day and will be announcing fewer than 30,000 tickets sold for a number of games. They will finish in the neighborhood of 2.7 million, after selling 3,108,107 tickets in 2011.

And then things will get tough. This year's 23,000 season-ticket equivalents will take a big hit this winter, and the groups that bought far fewer tickets this summer surely will not be motivated to increase those numbers in 2013.

The Twins did some remarkable building of the "brand'' during the previous decade. There were more people attending, watching and listening to games -- and wearing Twins merchandise -- than for any long stretch in Minnesota's major league history.

Presumably, the people that built that brand -- the baseball and business departments -- know where this franchise could be standing in the Twin Cities sports market in the immediate future. Presumably, they realize normal operating procedure won't work this time.

There's a decent chance the Wild will sign Zach Parise this week to a 10-year, $100 million contract. This will be by far the biggest contract for an outside free agent for a Minnesota team.

Parise's signing also would be evidence of Wild owner Craig Leipold's realization that the patience of his team's fans has been stretched too far and that a dramatic move was required to renew the enthusiasm.

The Timberwolves are also alleged to be investigating a win-now approach, with the pursuits of Pau Gasol and the comebacking Brandon Roy. Successful or not, the Wolves are still in position to compete with and to sell perhaps Minnesota's two most popular athletes: Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio.

As for the Vikings, they are always the headline takers, and always the beneficiaries of optimism from the bulk of their fans. Throw in approval for the $975 million stadium that came in May, and the 9-23 record of the past two seasons is only a speck in the rearview mirrors of the Purple loyalists.

The Twins' competition doesn't end with the three pro teams. The populace has taken such a liking to country boy Jerry Kill that he won't have to win many for Gophers football to receive a positive spin. Plus, the return of Trevor Mbakwe is going to make it dang near impossible for Tubby Smith to coach his team into the Big Ten's second division and out of the NCAA tournament.

Meantime, the Twins have minimal starting pitching in 2012, and less than that on the horizon, and if the Pohlad brothers don't take a hint from Leipold's approach -- "you have to spend money to make money'' -- the Twins will sell fewer tickets in 2013 than the 2,416,237 for the final season (2009) in the Metrodome.

The Twins will have to buy a couple of big-league starters. Period.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. • preusse@startribune.com

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