Fans give the Lynx an edge

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 3, 2012 - 11:36 PM

Seats fill fast, and Target Center has become one of the toughest places for visiting teams to play.

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Lynx star Maya Moore, left, drove against the Tulsa Shock’s Glory Johnson during Friday’s game in front of 9,213 fans at Target Center. The defending WNBA champion Lynx are averaging 9,883 fans; in 2006, they averaged 6,442.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune file

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Sometimes Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve will pop in a game tape from 2010 to watch an opponent her current squad is about to face, to remember what the Lynx did in that matchup to be successful.

Often, the triumph she notices as much as anything is not what transpired on the court but what was happening in the stands. Then, the scattered crowd would be viewed as slow improvement. But the greatest accomplishment comes now, heading into Tuesday night's game against Los Angeles, when Reeve realizes just how far the franchise has come.

"It's really, really different when you're talking 2010 vs. 2011 and now, 2012," Reeve said, chuckling. "People know about it, and maybe the naysayers before who were not necessarily tempted to see us have now come out and seen us. ... I think [Target Center] has overtaken Seattle as far as toughest place to play, and we take great pride in that."

As for the numbers, the Lynx have absolutely overtaken Seattle -- and just about everyone else in the WNBA. This year, the average attendance of 9,883 is second-highest in the league after Los Angeles, and the largest for the Lynx since their inaugural season of 1999. Overall, Minnesota's attendance has increased 53 percent since 2006 -- more than 3,500 fans per game.

"Through all the years, we've always believed ... if we did a good job with what we put on the court, then the fans were going to be responsive," said Roger Griffith, the executive vice president and chief financial officer of the Lynx. "If you look at other sports, college, pro, that's really the way it works."

But there's a lot of other things that have gone into the journey as well. The Timberwolves have worked hard on building the brand of the Lynx -- advertising in areas where local sports fans will be exposed to the team, playing off the concept of "year-round basketball" and tinkering with different ticketing strategies to get people in the seats.

When fans buy season-ticket packages for next year, they all get three tickets for games this season. Additionally, season ticket plans allow payments as low as $14 a month. Already, the Lynx -- who have tripled season ticket holders since 2010 -- have sold 200-plus new season tickets, the quickest in franchise history that's ever been done. Most exciting, Griffith says, is the way the tickets are being sold.

"Before, fans would tend to come and when they'd walk up to buy a ticket, they would buy the cheapest ticket. They were just there to get in the arena for the lowest price they could. Now, the first tickets to go are the best seats, are the most expensive," Griffith said. "People don't just want to be there, they want to be there with the best ticket they can get."

And it's hard to argue that the increased numbers and excitement don't make a difference. On Aug. 19 against Tulsa -- the last of a six-game sellout streak, the longest since the inaugural season -- 15,318 people piled into Target Center, the most since 16,227 showed up on July 14, 2004, to see Lindsay Whalen (then with Connecticut) play her first game in the Twin Cities as pro. The walls rattled as the Lynx obliterated Tulsa 83-59. It's enough to make the old 2010 game tapes seem like a lifetime ago.

"If you just get that little extra energy, whether you're just feeling off that night or your legs aren't under you for whatever reason, and the fans are going crazy and they're really into it, it just helps," Whalen said. "I think that it just kind of shows that we play a fun style and the fans have really responded."

  • LYNX ATTENDANCE UPSWING

    Up next: 7 p.m. today vs. Los Angeles • Target Center • TV: NBATV (106.1-FM)

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