Thursday, Apr. 25, 2019

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Battle for Fans Tight in Twin Cities


On a gorgeous Sunday yesterday we got a reminder about our crowded sports marketplace. The Twins and United played outdoors, while the Lynx opened their season indoors at Target Center.

The Golden Gophers and our seven pro teams (add in the Saints, Timberwolves, Vikings and Wild) often butt heads on the same day. The winners are Minnesota sports fans who have a plethora of professional and Gopher teams to follow in a society that thrives on choices and variety in everything from autos to wieners.

This area’s sports smorgasbord is among the most diverse in the nation. We also rank at the top with our lineup of (mostly) modern venues: Allianz Field, CHS Field, Target Center, Target Field, TCF Bank Stadium, 3M Arena at Mariucci, U.S. Bank Stadium, Williams Arena and Xcel Energy Center.

Ask the business side leaders of Minneapolis-St. Paul teams how they view all the competition from one another, and then get ready for a politically correct answer. They will tell you how great it is to have a rich sports landscape and that all the teams can be successful financially. The stock answers will include how they cheer for each other and wish for success by all.

Kumbaya? Maybe.

Truth is, if you eliminated several of the teams, popularity and box office success would increase for at least some organizations. Last Sunday the Twins drew 28,577 fans and the Lynx attracted 13,002, according to the Star Tribune. Despite playing in spectacular weather against border rival Milwaukee, the Twins missed a sellout by about 10,000 customers. The Lynx, in a seaon opener celebrating last year’s WNBA title and playing a top team in the Sparks, had over 6,000 seats that went unsold. The United reported a sellout audience of 23,117 at its temporary home at TCF Bank Stadium.

At 3.5 million, this is one of the 20 largest metropolitan areas in the country and that large population helps to support all of our entertainment options, but imagine if neither the Twins, nor the Lynx, or United, had box office competition in the spring and summer. What if the Gophers didn’t have to battle the Vikings, Timberwolves and Wild for football, basketball and hockey customers?

Some operations get hurt in this crowded sports marketplace that includes a battle not just to sell tickets but also to generate revenues from suites, sponsorships, venue and broadcast advertisers, concessions and merchandising. Despite four WNBA titles in seven years, the Lynx work hard to sell tickets including in the playoffs. The Timberwolves and Gophers, even with infrequent successes, have histories of disappointing their fans. Support for these teams can be iffy and conditional.

You can add the Twins to that list. They and MLB also face the problems of inclement weather, lengthy games and slow pace of play.

U.S. Bank Stadium

The Vikings win any and all popularity contests here. With a winning team and fabulous venue in U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings can withstand any number of competitors for the sports dollar in this marketplace. The NFL, despite its infamous reputation for head trauma, remains at the top of the American sports kingdom including in Minneapolis.

The Wild has produced competitive teams but little to cheer about in the playoffs. The organization, though, excels at customer relations and is in sync with the rabid hockey market in Minnesota. Hockey fans have a special passion for their sport and the Wild has never seriously broken the bond with its fanbase.

It’s niche loyalty that serves the Saints, too. The local independent baseball franchise’s shtick has branded the Saints as entertainment first, winning second. Comedian Bill Murray is an owner and there seemingly is no end to the gimmicks in the organization’s marketing plan. The Saints do it right, including dividing up their CHS Field seat allotment into thirds for season tickets, groups and individual sales.

Saints games are family friendly and tickets inexpensive compared with many of the offerings in this market. Affordable pricing is part of the United’s strategy, also. The second-year Minnesota MLS franchise is aiming to fill its stadium with what executives see as an unfilled opportunity to satisfy the existing and growing soccer interest in the state.

Part of what’s fueled the population growth in this area is an increasing immigrant population. Many of those newcomers love the “world’s sport”—soccer. A lot of immigrants are young and like other Minnesota millennials have grown up playing soccer.

Millennials, though, are an elusive target for some sport marketers. Baseball, football and golf all want to score with millenials who have a reputation for short attention spans. Ask a millennial if he watched a Twins game, or even the Vikings, and a predictable answer is he opted for a 25-second video recap.

For now at least there isn’t any downsizing in this busy sports marketplace that includes the Minnesota Whitecaps, the women’s pro hockey franchise that has been around since 2004. Leaders announced last week the Whitecaps are joining the National Women’s Hockey League. That’s the highest level of American women’s professional hockey, so we’re big league in that, too.

Expansion of the sports menu appears likely with Minneapolis-St. Paul trading the 3M Championship senior golf tournament for a PGA Tour event starting in 2019. More competition for the sports dollar locally but another option for the consumer.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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