Fans who think the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx will leave the state as soon as new owners gain control of the operation have likely underestimated Glen Taylor.
The men's team, the National Basketball Association's Timberwolves, didn't win nearly enough for Taylor to ever be a fan favorite. Yet he has achieved one of his main goals when deciding to buy the NBA team 27 years ago — because the franchise is still here.
And even though he's moving toward selling a controlling interest, he's confident the teams will stay put. There's good reason to believe him, too.
Taylor bought control of the Wolves after a dramatic period in the team's short history that included a firm agreeing to buy the team for more than $150 million and move it to New Orleans.
Taylor emerged as a buyer in 1994 at a purchase price of about $88 million. The NBA blocked the New Orleans deal and then that fall approved Taylor's purchase.
"When I did the purchase, I had no idea values would go up and I could make some money off this thing," Taylor said this week, a few days after news broke that he had reached an agreement with retired professional baseball star Alex Rodriguez and retailing entrepreneur Marc Lore to buy in at a reported valuation of $1.5 billion.
Taylor had been looking for a new controlling owner — it's that season of life for an entrepreneur about to turn 80.
In the process, though, he wouldn't negotiate with anybody with an interest in moving the teams, he said this week.
Rodriguez and Lore will become part of a team that already has what's called a nonrelocation agreement with the city of Minneapolis, which controls Target Center, the downtown arena where the Wolves and Lynx play their games.
It's part of the broader agreement that will keep the teams playing there through the end of the 2035 Lynx season.
The language in the agreement, though, seems a little odd for a formal contract, because it asked the team owners to formally acknowledge that the Wolves are "extraordinary and unique," and thus irreplaceable.
This contract has a provision called specific performance, which means that the teams must keep playing in Target Center, no matter what. If a court later rules this out of bounds, there's another provision that calls for $50 million to be paid instead.
Agreements like this one are now common in major league sports, with teams making specific promises to their hometowns, which put at least some taxpayer money into the stadiums where the teams play.
What is a little unusual in this case is that it's the seller — Taylor — now joining with the city on insisting that the teams stay here. If this seems odd, the seller of a business asking for things to happen with a company even after turning control over to someone else, it's really not.
Owners about to sell their businesses might ask for employment agreements for staff or an extension of the lease for a building they also own. Prospective buyers often say no to those requests, too, said attorney Todd Taylor, co-founder of the Avisen law firm in Minneapolis. If the buyer agrees, it likely will cost the seller some money.
Glen Taylor (who also owns the Star Tribune) would have a much stronger position in getting an enforceable commitment to not move the teams if he kept some financial interest, Todd Taylor said.
Minority stakeholders often can get restrictive covenants in deals. They are almost always part of venture capital deals, he said. Even with just a minority stake, those investors often can block things like changing the composition of the board or borrowing money.
Todd Taylor said it would be a good idea for Glen Taylor — no relation — to "layer a bunch of these things" to restrict moving the Wolves and Lynx, meaning addressing the issue in more than one way and in different parts of the contracts.
That's because, as shown in a Marquette Sports Law Review article that Todd Taylor forwarded, it's clear these agreements do end up in court.
It's important to know that Glen Taylor described any contract terms as "the first line of defense" in keeping the Wolves and Lynx in the state.
"But the ultimate line of defense is the NBA," he said.
In his agreement with Rodriguez and Lore, they would get involved right away in the operation, from sponsorships to ticket sales. Taylor said he welcomed their ideas and energy.
Yet he's going to remain in charge, still working on league issues that could include weighing in on any proposed relocations of teams.
That's for 2½ years "or longer, we'll see how this goes," Taylor said.
It's hard to know why anybody would want to move a team out of the Twin Cities. It's the 14th-largest media market in the country, about the same size as the Seattle and Tacoma area, metropolitan Detroit and greater Denver. The better opportunity seems to be winning more often and taking a bigger share of the Minnesota entertainment market.
About half of the NBA's teams are in smaller markets, some not even half the size of the Twin Cities. Yet in one of those comparable markets without an NBA team, Seattle, they really want one.
The SuperSonics NBA team once played there, the last NBA team to relocate, moving to Oklahoma in 2008. To settle a lawsuit with the city, the new owners left behind the team's name, colors, jerseys and other stuff, along with $45 million in cash.
Glen Taylor brought up Seattle in our conversation, saying that the NBA doesn't want one of its existing 30 teams to move there.
"It's in [the league's] interest to start a team in Seattle," he said.
Seattle has the newly renovated Climate Pledge Arena almost ready to open, which will host the WNBA's Seattle Storm and a National Hockey League expansion team called the Kraken.
Anyone who wants to buy the rights from the league to a new NBA franchise in Seattle should budget for $2.5 billion. That makes buying into pro basketball here look like a bargain.