Timberwolves season ticket renewal notices normally go out to fans around the middle of January, which this year came during the early stages of what grew to be the team's second double-digit losing streak.
With optimism in short supply, Ryan Tanke, the Wolves' chief operating officer, and others on the business side consulted with the basketball operations side and decided to push those renewal pleas into February — after the trade deadline. No promises were made, but President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas had pledged publicly to be aggressive in hopes of jump-starting the latest in the organization's countless rebuilds.
What happened last week, then, was a happy marriage of basketball and business — one the Wolves hope will inject life not just on the court but in the stands, where lagging attendance has been a chronic issue.
Buoyed by an extensive roster makeover — only two players remain from when Rosas took over nine months ago, and many were swapped in a flurry of trade deadline deals last week — the Wolves had only their second sellout crowd of the season Saturday at Target Center when their new-look crew trounced the Clippers.
On Tuesday, the Wolves were finally ready to make their season ticket renewal pitch to their most loyal customers — longstanding and often long-suffering season-ticket holders. In an aggressive plan released to the general public Wednesday, the Wolves offered three key pieces to fans who either renewed existing tickets or bought new ones for the 2020-21 season:
• 50% off all food, beverage and retail purchases at Target Center, including alcohol, for the next two seasons; the flexibility to exchange tickets for games they can't use for ones they can use later; and a pledge to not raise ticket prices next year and the year after.
The Wolves will offer about 1,000 lower-level season tickets at $23 per game (less than $1,000 per season) with upper-level seats starting at $16. The 50% discount on food, drink and retail purchases (available while using the Timberwolves app, on which money can be loaded) is extremely rare in major pro sports.
These initiatives were in the works before Rosas delivered D'Angelo Russell and Co. into the basketball mix, but the combination of the two has Tanke optimistic about building on a loyal but dwindling fan base.
The Wolves entered Wednesday last in NBA average home attendance this season (14,592), nearly 1,000 fans fewer than the next-lowest team. They were third from the bottom a year ago, when early-simmering Jimmy Butler drama boiled over in a tumultuous fall.
That tension and subsequent 36-win season squashed any momentum gained in 2017-18, when the Wolves averaged north of 17,000 fans — the first time since Ricky Rubio's rookie year in 2011-12 they had eclipsed that modest benchmark at an arena with room for a couple thousand more.
The Wolves had 8,500 full season-ticket holders in Butler's playoff year. In the midst of that season, the Wolves raised season ticket prices for 2018-19 and hoped to keep growing their base with sustained success.
Instead, the team and the season ticket number regressed; this year, there are only 6,500 full season tickets sold, Tanke said. But he is optimistic that the incentives plus enticing basketball will push that number considerably higher in 2020-21, and the rest of this season will be somewhat of a proving ground.
There was another strong and vocal crowd Wednesday night for Russell's home debut against Charlotte — he missed Saturday's game because of a minor quad injury — helped mightily when Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns (who missed Wednesday's game because of a wrist injury) bought 1,000 tickets apiece and distributed them free to fans, who quickly snatched them up.
"We think this is a next step," Tanke said.
The discounts and roster shake-up are both bold. Will they entice fans?
It's at least food for thought, at half-price.