The Timberwolves and Lynx opened the doors of Target Center to the public on Thursday for one of the first times since the NBA postponed its season, but instead of a basketball court and hoops on the floor of the arena, there were chairs and places for people to give blood.
In concert with the Red Cross and Anheuser-Busch, the teams held a blood drive for 250 people, Wolves and Lynx COO Ryan Tanke said.
Tanke himself gave blood and everyone who did received a coronavirus antibody test. Tanke took some time to chat with the Star Tribune at the event where he touched on what it may look like when fans come back to Target Center, recent layoffs the organization had and actions the teams have taken in the name of social justice and racial equality. The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Strib: How did this blood drive come together?
Tanke: We started talking with Anheuser-Busch initially after the league shut down in March and wanted to do something this impactful. It was around finding the right time. When was it safe. How do we get the protocols in place where we can bring people safely down here? So really a three-way partnership between Anheuser-Busch, American Red Cross and brought together really 250 people today donating blood. Obviously it’s an urgent need right now in our community so this is something we want to do to positively impact the community when it needs it really badly right now.
Strib: The organizations recently laid off 18 people because of the coronavirus, how hard has this been to navigate and do you anticipate any more cuts as we go along?
Tanke: This has been an unprecedented time for the country and unfortunately the impact of COVID-19 it’s had a devastating, maybe disproportionately devastating impact on the sports industry. For us, we couldn’t be more optimistic about the future, but we’re still, like everybody, navigating through this very dynamic and fluid time.
Strib: How do you look forward? It looks like the next season may start in December. From a business side, in terms of selling tickets or anything like that, can you make any plans? Where does that stand?
Tanke: No different than a lot of businesses and industries right now, the amount of contingency planning that you do and the amount of work you put in that in the end never sees the light of day is really significant because you have to be prepared for a whole bunch of different scenarios. Initially were we going to be included in the restart of the season? Were we not going to be included? From a basketball standpoint, we obviously would’ve loved the opportunity to compete, loved the opportunity to see our guys together in competition, from a business standpoint, there is a little bit of an opportunity right now for us to turn the page and start to look forward to 2021. We know it’s going to start late. We don’t know when that exact start date is. We have the tent pole events in place with the lottery on August 25, which is a big date for us. The draft which I believe is October 12. And so we’ve got the tent pole events that have always been a big part of how you build your offseason plans. And then it’s the fluid start of the season, which could start in early December, mid-December, late December as we get going. You just have to have a lot of dynamic plans. We’re in Target Center right now, you see the capacity we have today. You’ve got to be prepared for a full crowd. What does that look like if we’re able to do that, when we’re able to do that? You’ve got to be prepared for no crowd. If next season begins with no fans, what does that look like. Then there’s partial fans. Which is, is there a socially distant safe way to bring people back into Target Center.
Strib: Does it rethink how you handle food, and food distribution, and other things like that?
Tanke: Right now we’re working across all the teams in town, we’re collaborating right now, including the University of Minnesota, around what we’re calling return to play and it’s really looking at every touch point that a fan will have from parking, and what is the most frictionless, contactless parking solution look like. Bringing people into the building – how do you get people safely into the building? Everything that happens inside from an interaction for a fan we’re trying to re-imagine what that could look like where there’s contactless, frictionless [interactions]. One of the organization’s strengths is being the first team to go all mobile with our tickets. Our fans are used to a mobile experience right now, and so we’re working hard on how do you transition the entire experience where you don’t actually have to touch anything but your own phone.
Strib: How hard is it to forecast the financial impact of what’s going to happen going forward?
Tanke: Initially a lot of the work the past few months has been around reconciling the 2019-20 season that just ended, so whether it’s tickets for the nine games we missed, we obviously had refund policies in place that would give everybody access to the refunds for those games, sponsor contracts, suite contracts, TV agreements. All those things we’ve just been navigating through and as we start to turn to next year we’ve got a plan for all three of those scenarios I just gave you. Not knowing exactly when that season would start, we just have to be really overcommunicative with our partners, our fans, our staff. All of it.
(The Wolves and Lynx have announced a number of partnerships and actions related to social justice in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, including giving employees Election Day off and partnering with the non-profit group RISE, which seeks to promote racial equality through sports)
Strib: How much do you want issues of social justice to be a part of the identity of this franchise?
Tanke: I’ve never been more proud of where I work than I have been in the last five, six weeks since the murder of George Floyd -- the way in which organizationally we have leaned into this as not just opportunity to use our voices but an obligation to use our voices. I think I’ve always known the impact sports could have on a community but I think I’ve gotten a deeper appreciation through both COVID-19 and now the social injustice in our society today, the voice we have and the collective voice and individual voices through our players and front office that we have to make a change and our commitment from day one has been we want to be a part of the sustainable change of what this looks like in our community and across the country.
Strib: You recently said getting a new jersey patch sponsor for the uniform fits into that plan. Where does that stand?
Tanke: Our three-year relationship with Fitbit is coming to a conclusion as they’ve gone through some changes in the Fitbit world. We’re out today actively looking for the next partner for our Timberwolves jersey and I think it makes a lot of sense for us right now to start to look at not just the branding opportunity that comes with an incredible iconic asset like that, but also what’s the story and societal impact we and another partner can make in that process. It’s going to be a journey and we have a long road ahead with who that partner might be. But for us to go out and find somebody will be terrific.