Wolves' promise on court has helped fill seats

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 19, 2012 - 6:59 AM

The Wolves no longer need to discount tickets to draw a crowd.

hide

Rookie guard Ricky Rubio not only helped the Wolves improve on the court before he was injured, but his marketability has also made it easier for the team to sell tickets.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Chris Wright clearly remembers walking out of Target Center into the Minneapolis night. It was May 19, 2004, and the Timberwolves had just advanced to the Western Conference Finals after a thrilling Game 7 victory over Sacramento.

"That was one of the greatest nights of my sports career," Wright said.

Wright is in his 22nd season working with the Wolves, his eighth as team president. He is in charge of the business end of the franchise.

Wright was sitting in his office, which affords a view of the Target Field plaza. One wall is dominated by a huge framed picture of Ricky Rubio smiling and holding a basketball in each hand. Another wall has a picture of Kevin Love taken before the Wolves All-Star adopted the Paul Bunyan look.

Wright, a 62-year-old native of England who came to the United States in 1978, and his 120-person staff have endured some tough times since that warm May night in 2004. But Love and Rubio are two of the reasons why Wright sees a bright future.

This despite a difficult, injury-riddled end to this season.

Without Rubio and Love in the lineup, the Wolves, in contention for a playoff spot when Rubio was hurt March 9, have stumbled mightily down the stretch, with 11 consecutive losses. But Wright believes -- and he has the numbers to prove it -- that people saw enough promise in the young team to invest in its future.

"It's bizarre, the injuries we've been faced with," Wright said. "But I think people really get it, that we're young, and there is such an upside for this team."

Attendance surge

The Wolves had four home crowds bigger than 20,000 this season, including a three-game stretch starting March 9, the night Rubio was hurt. But the Wolves, in the thick of the race at that point, were starting to approach critical mass in terms of fan interest. Before this season, the team hadn't drawn 20,000 since the 2009-10 season, when it happened once.

They have had 11 sellouts in this abbreviated season after having one in 41 home games in 2010-11.

Wright will admit that there were challenges to getting folks into seats and suites during a downturn both in the economy and on the basketball court. Early on, when the Wolves were in the rebuilding process, Wright and his staff started laying the groundwork for when things got better.

Wright calls it being 50-win ready -- being able to respond quickly when the team's play improved. What did that mean? An intense process of getting to know every season ticket and suite holder as well as corporate sponsors. The goal was to find out how the team could enhance the experience of a game in ways Wright and his staff could control. Indeed, Wright said, the Wolves started doing things concert promoters had done for years: Allowing behind-the-scenes access to management, coaches and players, for example. An Alumni Club was even started, where former season ticket holders were kept in contact with the team. The Wolves also discounted many tickets to get fans in the stands.

"We did an awful lot of things since 2003-04 to get ready for what is going on right now," Wright said.

Wright saw things building. Love became an All-Star for the first time last season. When Rubio was finally signed prior to the lockout, 700 new full season tickets were sold in the next three weeks.

There was another uptick after Derrick Williams was taken with the No. 2 pick in the draft. Then, coming out of the lockout, the Wolves had veteran coach Rick Adelman heading a strong staff.

"The reason why we got it back so quickly is all of the above," Wright said. "It's Kevin's break-out year, and his play this season. It's signing Rubio and that Rubio played beautifully in this marketplace. It is because of Rick Adelman and Derrick Williams. But it is also because of the way we built our infrastructure around our consumer base."

Future plans

The Wolves had 920 new full season tickets sold for next season as of last week. Wright said 98 percent of the lower-bowl season ticket holders renewed. Overall, more than 95 percent of all season ticket holders renewed, among the top three in the league. And this despite the discounts of recent seasons disappearing.

By the beginning of next season, Wright expects to have at least 8,000 full season tickets sold, which would match the number the team had entering the 2004-05 season.

On the business side, there has been movement as well.

The Wolves were able to extend its naming rights agreement with Target for the arena. Ford Motor Company returned as a sponsor after being absent for four years. Wright said the teams' relationship with Life Time Fitness has expanded, and the team added Juhl Wind as a sponsor for signage both outside and inside the arena.

"We're looking to grow our [corporate] sponsorship levels by as much as 30 percent for next year," Wrght said.

And suites? Wright said the team was able to keep suite capacity fairly level -- at about 60 percent -- thanks to a plan that bundled Wolves games with concerts and events at Target Center. The team also did a good job of renting suites for single games. For example, Wright cited the recent game with Oklahoma City, when 21 suites were rented just for that game.

Going forward, that could change. The Wolves are planning a new suite initiative, one that will be announced in the next couple weeks, that will put more emphasis on games. Wright also said the 120-seat Cambria Club has renewed at 100 percent.

All that work during the lean years could be paying off.

"What a training ground for this staff to go out there, operate under [difficult] circumstances, where the team isn't performing to what the market would like, and to figure out with consumers what they really want from their experience from us," Wright said. "Now that the experience on the court is better, imagine how much easier it is now."

So, Wright was asked, does it feel as though he is emerging from a dark tunnel into the light? He didn't like that analogy. So he offered this:

"I prefer that you're in the forest," he said. "Because at least there is light coming through, and it's alive, a great environment. But, at times, you don't know your way through that forest. We've been in the forest for a while. But I think now we have a clear path as to how to get out of there. ... I've been here for 20 years. I can't remember being this excited about the prospects for this franchise."

  • WOLVES AT DETROIT • 6:30 p.m. Thursday • Palace of Auburn Hills • No TV (830-AM)

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

San Francisco - M. Bumgarner 7:07 PM
Pittsburgh - E. Volquez
Minnesota 10/2/14 7:25 PM
Green Bay
Buffalo 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Detroit
Chicago 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Cleveland 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
St. Louis 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Atlanta 10/5/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Tampa Bay 10/5/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Houston 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Dallas
Baltimore 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Pittsburgh 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Arizona 10/5/14 3:05 PM
Denver
Kansas City 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
NY Jets 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Diego
Cincinnati 10/5/14 7:30 PM
New England
Seattle 10/6/14 7:30 PM
Washington
Washington 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Carolina 6:00 PM
Columbus
Pittsburgh 6:30 PM
Detroit
Montreal 7:30 PM
Chicago
Arizona 8:00 PM
Edmonton
Fla Atlantic 10/2/14 6:00 PM
FIU
UCF 10/2/14 6:00 PM
Houston
Arizona 10/2/14 9:30 PM
(2) Oregon
Louisville 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Syracuse
San Diego St 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Utah State 10/3/14 9:15 PM
(18) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(12) Miss State
Ball State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Army
Iowa State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(21) Oklahoma State
Marshall 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Old Dominion
Southern Miss 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Middle Tennessee
(20) Ohio State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Maryland
Purdue 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Florida 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
SMU 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(22) East Carolina
Virginia Tech 10/4/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Eastern Mich 10/4/14 1:00 PM
Akron
North Texas 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Indiana
Massachusetts 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Tulsa 10/4/14 2:00 PM
Colorado State
New Mexico 10/4/14 2:30 PM
TX-San Antonio
(3) Alabama 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(11) Ole Miss
(14) Stanford 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(9) Notre Dame
(17) Wisconsin 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Navy 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
(7) Baylor 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Texas
(4) Oklahoma 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(25) TCU
Wake Forest 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
NC State 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Clemson
Buffalo 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Bowling Green
Ohio U 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Central Mich
Oregon State 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Colorado
Vanderbilt 10/4/14 3:00 PM
(13) Georgia
Kansas 10/4/14 3:00 PM
West Virginia
Kent State 10/4/14 4:00 PM
Northern Ill
South Alabama 10/4/14 5:00 PM
Appalachian St
Texas-El Paso 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
(15) LSU 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(5) Auburn
UAB 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Ky
Texas Tech 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(23) Kansas State
Michigan 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Rutgers
Hawaii 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Rice
Toledo 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Mich
ULM 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Georgia State 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
Idaho 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Texas State
Memphis 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Arizona State 10/4/14 6:30 PM
(16) USC
So Carolina 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Kentucky
Pittsburgh 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Virginia
Miami-Florida 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Georgia Tech
(19) Nebraska 10/4/14 7:00 PM
(10) Michigan State
UNLV 10/4/14 7:00 PM
San Jose St
Ga Southern 10/4/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Utah 10/4/14 9:30 PM
(8) UCLA
Boise State 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
Winnipeg 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Edmonton 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Which struggling team is in the worst shape?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close