Twins ensconced as darlings of the local sports scene

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 26, 2011 - 9:38 PM

The popularity of the Twins, now playing their second season at Target Field, has grown locally and nationally.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune file

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The Twin Towns have become one big Twins Town.

Ten years after they survived attempts to eradicate the franchise, the Twins never have been more popular, or so dominant in a marketplace flush with sports options.

Ten years after suffering through their eighth consecutive losing season and being forced to view the St. Paul Saints as prime competitors for the Minnesota baseball fans' dollar, the Twins will enter their second year in Target Field as one of baseball's model franchises and a stunning financial success story.

As a talented Twins team trains in Fort Myers and green grass fights through the snow at Target Field, it might be difficult to remember just how far this franchise has come.

In the fall of 2001, the Star Tribune reported that Twins owner Carl Pohlad was offering his own team up for contraction, preferring to accept a buyout check over continuing to lose games and money in the Metrodome.

That might have been Pohlad's way of dramatizing his plight, and he might not have ever been willing to fold the franchise, but he wouldn't have been disappointing many season-ticket holders had he followed through on the threat. The Twins' season-ticket base has increased from 5,181 in 2001 to 25,000 this season.

The current Twins aren't popular merely by the pathetic measure of the franchise in 2000. The current Twins are popular even compared to the beloved 1987 Twins, who won the World Series, or the '88 Twins, who became the first baseball team to draw 3 million.

''For those of us who have been with the organization for any length of time, we continue to be just amazed at the overall popularity of the franchise, really, by every measure,'' said Twins President Dave St. Peter. ''Fan attendance. Television ratings. Radio listenership. Merchandise. All those things you would use to measure fan affinity point to the fact that we're more popular now, and the brand is stronger now, than at any time in the history of the franchise.

''That probably speaks to the stability that Target Field offers us and the fact that Major League Baseball has evolved and we have much more of a 24-7-365 presence in the media world.''

Media evolution helps only successful franchises. Media evolution hasn't helped the rest of the teams in the Twin Cities. Other than the Twins, local sports reside at an all-time low-water mark.

The Vikings fell on their faces last year and face either a lockout or a rebuilding season in 2011. The Wild will miss the NHL's easy-to-make playoffs for the fifth time in seven seasons. The Timberwolves draw and play like a small-college team despite exhaustive efforts to market the team and sell affordable tickets.

The Gophers' athletic department has squandered its natural advantage in hockey, its tradition in basketball, a new stadium in football and a brief period of popularity in women's basketball.

While the rest of the sporting options in Minnesota hold all the appeal of a day-old fish buffet, the Twins have spoiled their fans to the point where Minnesotans chafe at playoff losses to the New York Yankees and the lack of a recent World Series championship.

St. Peter noted that before the 2001 season, the Twins embarked on an ad campaign entitled ''Get To Know 'Em.'' It was a risk, to market a group of young, unaccomplished players, but it was also an intelligent approach -- marketing the players' promise and personalities instead of predicting greatness.

The campaign became the Twins' largest marketing initiative to that point.

''We got incredibly lucky when the Tom Kelly-led 2001 Twins started the season 14-3 and became the talk of baseball,'' St. Peter said. ''Our fans rallied around the campaign -- and more importantly the players and the team.

''In my mind, that was not only the foundation which would help stave off contraction, but it commenced one of the most significant brand makeovers one can recall.''

Since then, the Twins have become one of the most popular teams in Major League Baseball, and easily the most popular team in town.

''The fact that we have 25,000 season tickets, ranking in the top four in MLB, I think is staggering for a franchise that has historically had one of the lowest season-ticket bases in the game,'' St. Peter said. ''That has turned a lot of heads around Major League Baseball, especially in a down economy.

''What we've seen around the ballpark, and the Twin Cities, and even the country, is that people are very proud to wear a Twins jersey.''

Especially now that none of them reads: "Klingenbeck.''

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2:40 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib. •

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