By: Alex Berg
The Minnesota Timberwolves have a huge problem.
Go ahead, take a guess. I’m not talking about Sam Mitchell. I’m not talking about the question marks in the front office. I’m not talking about Ricky Rubio’s field goal percentage. I’m talking about the attendance.
So far, through 30 home games, the Timberwolves rank 29th in the NBA with an average of 14,137 fans per game, which accounts for 73.0 percent of the Target Center capacity -- also ranks 29th in the NBA. Perhaps the most alarming part, this season’s attendance mark is on pace to be the WORST IN FRANCHISE HISTORY!
Yes. You read that correctly. The Ryan Gomes and Randy Foye 2008-09 Timberwolves drew more fans than this team featuring some of the best talent in the NBA. How is that even possible?
In a short answer, I have no idea. I have no answer for this, but if I had to take a guess it would be a combination of the ticket prices, a lack of “other” attractions at the Target Center, and the new FlashSeats ticket app.
First of all, in comparison, Timberwolves ticket prices are not that outrageous. I know for many NBA arenas, you’re looking at spending $100/ticket to sit in the lower level. That is not the case at the Target Center. I chose the Detroit Pistons at random to see how their set prices compared to the Wolves. For $12, you could get into the Palace of Auburn Hills last night to see a game vs. the Philadelphia 76ers. I imagine that is one of the “value” games this season.
Timberwolves tickets start at $14 for the cheapest games, so that is pretty reasonable. On a higher end, the Pistons charge $25 to get into a Tuesday night game which features Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s only trip to Detroit this season. Again, this is comparable to the $26 price tag to see the Golden State Warriors next month at Target Center.
Seeing how the Wolves compare price-wise to some of the “cheaper” NBA teams, it is hard to fairly accuse them of pricing tickets too high. And comparing them to the other teams in the Twin Cities is apples to oranges because of the atmosphere and number of games in a season.
The next reason compares exclusively to local teams -- specifically the neighboring Twins -- because I simply do not have enough (any) knowledge outside of this market in the NBA. It just seems like there are not many enticing features at the Target Center aside from the product on the floor. At Target Field you have a clubhouse store, the Metropolitan Club -- which serves as an affordable sit-down restaurant with a view -- and various food options from local restaurants and food trucks. At the Target Center, you have scattered clothes in the concourse and Freschetta pizza that is usually cold when you get it. Hopefully the upcoming renovations give the Target Center a needed face-lift in this area. I know it is not necessarily a fair criticism, but there are people who have no interest in baseball who will go to Target Field regularly. I’m not sure that is true about basketball at the Target Center.
Finally, for those who are not already aware, the Timberwolves started using an app called “FlashSeats” this season. In a nutshell, it is a very convenient app that allows fans to enter the arena without the hassle of carrying around a paper ticket and makes tickets easily transferable via smartphones. Sounds great. Well, except the Wolves are essentially forcing this method on fans purchasing tickets in advance. I know it may be hard to believe in 2016, but not everybody has a smartphone (or a cell phone for that matter) or is technologically-advanced enough to want to do this. I think everyone appreciates an effort to crack down on fake tickets, but let’s be honest, Timberwolves tickets have not been in a high demand for over a decade now. I am all for trying to make things easier for fans, but forcing an app (especially when you are a team with no real leverage) on its fans is just insane to me.
I say all of these things in speculation, of course. I go to as many games as I possibly can and always have a good time at the Target Center. I am just trying to get into the head of a casual fan who clearly is not coming to Timberwolves games as often as they have in the past.
My suggestions may be part of the answer, it may have nothing to do with any of what I said. Despite a losing record, the Wolves do have an intriguing product that should draw more than 14,000 people per home game.
I mean this in no offense to the great people I know who work in marketing and ticket sales for the Timberwolves, but finding out how to get more bodies in the Target Center has to be a priority. Until tickets are in more of a demand, it is unlikely that fans who either cannot or do not want to attend all 41 home games will want to invest in a product in which the resale tickets are often less than half of face value. Once season ticketholders keep either his or her tickets or do not have to sell them for pennies on the dollar, I imagine the walk-up sales and attendance numbers will improve.