Fresh off the All-Star break, the 31-28 Timberwolves are set to make a push over the last 23 games for just their second playoff appearance since 2004 and first in five seasons. That begins with home games Thursday and Friday against two of the NBA's top teams in Memphis and Philadelphia, matchups poised to draw big crowds to Target Center.

The Wolves are hoping big crowds become more the norm in downtown Minneapolis than the exception.

To help fill seats for next season and beyond, Chief Operating Officer Ryan Tanke said the team is not raising season-ticket prices for next season and will even be decreasing prices in certain areas.

"We think this is such an opportunity," Tanke said. "We think it's a multiyear build to go and build back our fan base. We know that we've got a lot of excitement, but we know we've also got a lot of work to do."

More winning has meant more fans to Target Center this season. Before the pandemic shortened the season two years ago, the Wolves ranked 30th out of 30 in attendance per game (15,066). This season they have moved up to 20th (15,631).

"We're certainly happy with that growth," Tanke said. "But we've got much bigger ambitions for where we want to take this thing."

The Wolves will be making their season-ticket push this week, and instead of raising prices Tanke said the Wolves want to retain the season-ticket holders they have now and add as many new ones as possible, hence the lack of a price increase. The popular 50% discount season-ticket holders receive on concessions and merchandise within Target Center will still be available next season.

Season-ticket packages range from $15 a game to $1,500 a game, with tickets in the lower level starting at $23 per game.

Vaccine mandate issues

Excitement for the team is up or has reached record highs in most of the metrics the Wolves use to track fan enthusiasm. Television ratings on Bally Sports North are up 40% and the Wolves' corporate sponsorship revenue is at an all-time high, Tanke said, thanks in part to its jersey sponsorship with cybersecurity company Aura.

The Wolves have also set a season record of single-game ticket sales and rank in the top five in the league in terms of "game experience satisfaction."

"No franchise or community has been impacted more by the events of the last two years than Minneapolis and our organization, so for us to safely provide that type of game experience is really paramount," Tanke said.

The only exceptions to that experience were the three games the Wolves played under the city's vaccine mandate, which required fans to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to attend games. The city has lifted those mandates and the Wolves no longer require vaccine proof or a negative test to attend.

"Our show rate and utilization rate in those games were among the three lowest that we had for the season," Tanke said. "It certainly had an effect on the actual attendance and so with case counts dropping and health and safety data supporting, we're certainly happy with the way in which the city is managing this as best they can."

Safety concerns

Tanke also acknowledged there has been hesitancy among some fans to come back for a game to downtown Minneapolis out of safety concerns. The Wolves have tried to alleviate those with added staff and security presence in the blocks around Target Center. But regardless of added security, some fans have still stayed away because they perceive downtown as a dangerous place.

"That part [the perception issue] is also a very real thing," Tanke said. "There's people that haven't had an opportunity to go back downtown in a couple of years or haven't felt comfortable going back downtown. We've got to work with the Minneapolis Downtown Council, the Chamber of Commerce and all those groups — how do we sort of reanimate and reopen Minneapolis."

Winning has helped reanimate the Wolves' fan base, with Tanke saying some remaining home games are already sold out. The team decided to reduce capacity from around 19,000 to 17,136 through tarping some of the least-desirable seats. This was an effort to replicate the atmosphere of some newer arenas which have a capacity in that range. So when the Wolves have a sellout, Target Center still doesn't look full, a dynamic Tanke admitted could look "awkward." But even if the Wolves make the playoffs, the tarps won't come off the seats, Tanke said.

"We have no plan on removing those tarps for playoffs or anything like that," Tanke said. "This is our new normal for what the arena will be."

The Wolves hope that new normal includes even more larger crowds.