The Timberwolves will carry one of the NBA's worst records and the NBA's lowest average attendance into their next home game Friday against Detroit. Those two facts are very much intertwined — particularly when the franchise has been losing for more than a decade and there are so many options for local sports fans.
That said, there might be another factor at play with the Timberwolves: the organization's ticketing system. With Flash Seats, ticket purchasers use an app on a mobile device or scan a credit card or ID to claim their seats upon entry to Target Center. A handful of other NBA teams use Flash Seats, though the Wolves and Lynx were early adopters in requiring its use for all tickets.
In response to this Twitter question: "Has the mandatory use of Flash Seats for ticketing impacted your attendance habits?" I got a deluge of responses. A few people said they liked Flash Seats. A few people said the on-court product was the only deterrent. But the majority said the ticketing system had at least some impact.
In many cases the impact was significant, such as the respondent who replied, "flashseats was biggest deterrent for me not getting [a] ticket package this year."
The biggest problem in the eyes of Wolves fans is that with Flash Seats, there is a price floor when it comes to reselling tickets (which was 75 percent of face value last season). Unsold/unused tickets frustrate both the original holders and those who were used to finding deals on prime seats.
My guess is the Wolves don't necessarily mind this part of things — nor do some season-ticket holders — because it serves as a way to maintain the value of a ticket. If you buy seats for $100 and end up sitting next to someone who bought them for $20, you might be a little annoyed.
Still, it's a big enough issue to be the focus of a class-action lawsuit filed earlier this year. Flash Seats, the suit alleges, allows the Timberwolves to "employ minimum resale prices, added fees, and other draconian restrictions on subsequent transfers of the tickets."
I checked in for an update this week with Brian Gudmundson, an attorney for the Minneapolis firm Zimmerman Reed, which filed the suit. He said the case is very much alive and that dozens of other ticket buyers have joined the two named plaintiffs.
"I do a lot of cases, and the level of outrage among people affected is on a different level," Gudmundson said.
But is it really impacting attendance? The raw numbers say it's possible, since the Wolves are averaging 13,125 fans through 10 home games (down about 800 from the same point last season).
Brad Ruiter, the Wolves' VP of Communications, said of Flash Seats, "The vast majority of the feedback we have received from our ticket holders has been positive."
He praised Flash Seats for its convenience and ease of communication and said the Wolves have seen a small increase in season-ticket holders from last year to this year.
While it is dangerous to rely on a small sample size of Twitter respondents, it's pretty clear the feedback the Wolves have been getting is different from the feedback I'm seeing.
If the Wolves were off to a winning start (as the organization and its fans had hoped), Flash Seats might not be an issue. Fans wouldn't expect to find cheap seats, and reselling seats for a good price would be much easier.
Maybe it's more a case of bad timing than a bad system, but this is the reality: The team is struggling and there are real people saying the ticket system is a factor in their ticket buying.