In an exclusive interview with Sports Headliners, Timberwolves and Lynx owner Glen Taylor said it’s not definite he will sell the franchises. Reports earlier this summer had the 79-year-old Mankato billionaire pursuing a sale of his longtime franchises for $1.2 billon.
When asked whether he anticipated a sale soon or not happening for an extended period, he said: “I don’t really know the answer to that right now. We have opened it up to see if people would be interested. At this point we’re trying to see what value would they put on it, and we haven’t finished that. We’re just getting that information together. …We have some people that said they are interested.”
Although not likely, Taylor said it’s possible a sale of the NBA Timberwolves would not include the WNBA Lynx. Presently, one company runs the two franchises, with some employees working for both the Wolves and Lynx.
“So that’s the most logical way (of selling),” Taylor said. “If we find a buyer I guess we’ll just have to sit down with that buyer and see what their interest is. I am open to almost anything.”
Taylor deserves credit for making the Wolves and Lynx fixtures in the state’s sports and entertainment scene. In the mid-1990’s original Wolves owners Harvey Ratner and Marv Wolfenson nearly completed a deal to relocate the franchise to New Orleans. Taylor stepped in and saved the franchise for Minnesota, purchasing the team for a reported $90 million.
In 1999 the upstart WNBA was bleeding money as it pioneered opportunities for women on the court and in other basketball positions. Taylor, a socially conscious entrepreneur, became owner of the Lynx expansion franchise and the team joined the Wolves in playing at Target Center.
“It isn’t like I thought about it (a lot),” Taylor said. “It just seemed like the right thing to do (women’s pro basketball).
“I am more concerned why more (NBA owners)…why they don’t do it. There is nothing wrong with taking some of the money you’ve made on the NBA…putting some of it back into the WNBA. It isn’t going to make anybody broke, or anything like that.”
Taylor said he doesn’t know what the dollar value of the Lynx is, and there are few estimates available about such figures for WNBA franchises. A $15 to $30 million per team value is a guess but whatever the number it’s a long way from the billions that NBA franchises command.
Taylor acknowledged there were years when his franchise lost a “couple million dollars.” But the Lynx has been one of the WNBA bluebloods, winning four league titles with the most recent in 2017, and the owner said championship years had the franchise making about $1 million.
It’s been satisfying to Taylor watching the success of the Lynx on the court but it’s also been rewarding knowing how the WNBA has created opportunities that didn’t previously exist for women. The league is a model for girls and young women to consider sports careers not only playing but in other areas such as coaching, administration and training.
NBA teams are now hiring women for key positions including assistant coaching. Taylor said that’s a role his Lynx head coach, Cheryl Reeve, could fill. She has coached the Lynx to all its championship success and also excelled in identifying personnel.
In its August 15 football issue Sports Illustrated predicts the Minnesota Vikings will finish the 2020 season with an 8-8 record, just behind the 9-7 Green Bay Packers in the NFC North Division. In a best case scenario the magazine says Mike Zimmer turns in his best coaching job revamping the secondary, while quarterback Kirk Cousins silences doubters.
Worst case? The heavy load of personnel changes entering the season proves too much to overcome and Cousins doesn’t measure up on an inconsistent team that must label 2020 as a rebuild.
In the same issue S.I. identifies North Dakota State redshirt sophomore quarterback Trey Lance as a potential top 10 NFL draft choice in 2021. The former Marshall, Minnesota prep player set a Bison passing record for efficiency last season while leading the team in rushing.
Gary Trent Jr., the former Apple Valley star, is a breakout contributor this summer for his surprise Portland Trail Blazers who have qualified for the NBA playoffs that opened this week. The 21-year-old second season shooting guard has made a big jump in playing time because of his shooting and defense.
The second annual Taste Fore The Tour raised $131,000 to support Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People, the Twin Cities’ largest food pantry. VEAP has experienced a 10-fold increase in demand due to COVID-19 but the promotion raised enough funds to provide 400,000 meals for local families. Donations are welcome through August 31, at TasteForeTheTour.com.
The MLB trade deadline is August 31 and Minnesota Twins fans can be assured front office leaders Derek Falvey and Thad Levine will do all they can to improve the roster. Ownership, too, is likely to be all-in on moves that could help the club make a postseason run.
A sports industry source, who asked not to be identified, told Sports Headliners that when the late Carl Pohlad owned the team his organization deserved its reputation for being tight with money. Pohlad’s sons, the franchise’s ownership successors, are different.
“I’ve never seen Jim Pohlad (executive chair) not willing to spend money,” the source said. “The brothers are a different breed and willing to spend dollars.”
Just this week the Twins acquired infielder Ildemaro Vargas from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for cash considerations. During the past offseason the Pohlads made a reported four-year $92 million commitment to third baseman Josh Donaldson, one of baseball’s premiere sluggers.
The Twins have publicly stated their 2020 goal of reaching the World Series but are most recently struggling and in need of pitching help. Targets might have included San Francisco Giants starter Jeff Samardzija. He has a somewhat pricey contract for the rebuilding San Francisco Giants but that might not deter Twins as much as the right hander’s status on the 10-day IL with shoulder impingement.
There’s a serious outbreak of injuries among MLB teams as players cope with too brief of a timeline to physically prepare for the shortened season that began just last month. Among the Twins sidelined have been Donaldson, and three starting pitchers in Homer Bailey, Rich Hill and Jake Odorizzi (returned last Saturday).
The Twins are among the favorites of odds-makers to represent the American League in the World Series but they have faltered some following a 10-2 start to the season. Despite playing mediocre competition of late, Minnesota is now 12-7 and lost five of eight games on its road trip that ended last night in Milwaukee.
The Twins have an off day today (Thursday) and then with the hurry up MLB schedule don’t have an open date again until September 3. With completion of their next game tomorrow evening the Twins will be one-third through their 60-game schedule.
The Big Ten’s cancellation of fall football—the cash cow for athletic departments—prompts even more speculation about reducing the number of sports offered at major universities including Minnesota. In a media call with reporters last May Golden Gophers athletics director Mark Coyle predicted department revenue losses could total $70 million by the end of fall semester in a worst case scenario caused by COVID-19 and the pandemic.
The Gophers offer 25 sports with only football, men’s basketball and men’s hockey profitable. With a past expense budget reportedly well north of $115 million, and revenues drying up during the pandemic, where is future money going to come from and won’t some programs be trimmed?
University regent Michael Hsu told Sports Headliners this week he hasn’t received projected athletic department revenue and expense numbers but he, too, wonders about the future and sustaining so many programs. He points out the athletic department can’t borrow money, although the University can. However—not even including athletics—the U already faces a huge COVID-caused budget crisis.
“We would have to agree that we’re going to get that (athletic department) money somewhere in the future and I am not certain it’s possible,” Hsu said.
Golden Gophers head football coach P.J. Fleck still has the highest of goals for his program. “We want people (players, coaches) who feel Minnesota can win a national championship one day…and we’re striving to be the best developmental program in the country,” Fleck said several days ago.
Fleck talked national title ambitions early on in his career at Minnesota. Some people may still consider that laughable but last season’s team was a surprising and impressive 11-2, just two years after Fleck’s first squad finished 5-7. The coach wants a “blue-blood” program that connects with the great Minnesota teams of the 1960s and earlier.
The Gophers received an endorsement in the August 15 issue of Sports Illustrated, but it soon came with an asterisk. S.I. placed Minnesota No. 12 in its top 20 preseason national rankings but the magazine went to press prior to star wide receiver Rashod Bateman’s announcement he will forfeit his remaining eligibility to turn pro.
Among Big Ten teams, only No. 3 Ohio State and No. 5 Penn State ranked higher than Minnesota. But in a do-over S.I. would likely drop the Gophers lower in its rankings because of the Bateman departure. No one will ever know for sure, but his absence could cost Minnesota one or more wins next spring if that is when the Big Ten decides to play football.
The magazine made clear its liking for Fleck. “There is a lot of sizzle in Fleck, 39, but it’s increasingly clear that there is substance underneath,” Pat Forde wrote.
Words of wisdom (and humor) from an anonymous suburban mom after her first out of town trip for a youth baseball tournament: “Do not bring toddlers; bring a shade tent/not just umbrella; dress for any weather; Best Western Plus isn’t half bad! Bug spray; three beers may not be enough; pack your patience and a hat.”
Dick Jonckowski will do public address work for part of the Class B Minnesota Amateur Baseball State Tournament games in Shakopee. Jonckowski, P.A. voice of Gophers baseball, said Shakopee is hosting the tournament after New Ulm’s city leaders turned the event down because of pandemic concerns. The tourney begins August 21 and ends September 6. The Chanhassen Red Birds are defending champions.
Personable Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold spoke one-on-one with Sports Headliners yesterday via telephone. The club’s hopes of a Stanley Cup run ended in a qualifying series loss to Vancouver last Friday. Leipold spoke to that disappointment and more in the following interview, with questions and answers edited for clarity and brevity.
The Wild lost the series 3-1 after winning the first game. What is your reaction to how the team played in the series?
I thought our first game that we played was maybe our best game of the year. I am not disappointed in the effort. I think we played hard. I think we’re as good a team as Vancouver is. There were a lot of good things that came out of that series.
Why do you think the Wild had difficulty holding leads?
That’s a tough one. Losing Ryan Suter (late in game three and unavailable for game four) that hurt us. They (the Canucks) are a good team and they have a lot of really fast young scorers. We knew that we had to play really well defensively and offensively in order to win that series, and we just couldn’t get it done.
What happened with Suter not playing?
He got a puck (hit) in the same area (right ankle) that was damaged two years. The coaches and medical (staff), out of caution, didn’t want him to take a chance that there was something really wrong with it. He might have been ready for the next game (last Sunday) but we didn’t have an MRI back for that Friday game and just out of an abundance of caution they thought it was best to hold him out.
I think Wild fans look at the franchise and say general managers change and coaches change but the club can’t make a deep playoff run? Are you as frustrated as they are?
Yeah, I think we all are. Five, six years ago we had some really pretty good teams but our first round matchup was against the best team in the NHL, Chicago. They were winning the (Stanley) Cup and we just couldn’t get past them. We need to get past the first round, second round in order to really become as good as we think we can be.
What will it take to change things?
We need to be better right down the middle. We need a good first line center—I think is going to be important to us. I think our goaltending needs to improve. Last year (season) it was not good. That needs to be better. I think if both of those (center and goalie) are better for us, I think we’ll be a better team.
How do you see the goalie competition going forward?
Frankly, we’ve had no conversation on that. That’s going to be up to Billy (GM Guerin) and what direction that goes in. I am certain that’s something Billy is going to take a good look at.
Suter and Parise were paid a lot of money several years ago on their contracts that brought them to Minnesota. Have they been worth the money?
I get asked that question at the end of every season. I would do it over again in one second. It changed our franchise. They’re not the reason that we haven’t gone as far as we would like to be. Ryan continues to be the mainstay of our defense. Great defensive player, gobbles up a lot of minutes for us. Zach Parise was still our leading scorer last year.
As you watched the series in person did you feel the chemistry was right on the ice?
I thought our chemistry on the team was fantastic. I had the pleasure of seeing all the players everyday…all the time. The chemistry between all the players, the leadership in the locker room and the camaraderie that they have I think is absolutely fantastic. I am really encouraged by how our players play together, both on and off the ice, and how they feel about each other.
Have you seen enough of forward Kevin Fiala to be convinced he is a star already?
He certainly is a difference maker. When he’s got the puck on his stick, the other team is playing hard. They know he is a special player. We’re real excited about Kevin Fiala on our team. We’re hopeful that we can surround him with players that can get him the puck in the right spot and he can bury it.
Do you plan to be any more involved this offseason than in past ones?
No, I absolutely do not. I spent a lot of time with Bill Guerin in the last few months. I can’t be more happy with that decision (to hire Guerin last year). He is the right guy. Highly motivated, incredibly competent. He knows what to do. I am excited about Billy, and I am excited about Dean (new coach Dean Evason). I think those two guys are going to work really well together. It’s their decisions, it’s not mine. I’ll keep my hands off. I’ll give them advice (but) they all know the advice I give them is the advice of a fan, not an owner.
What did you see in Dean that you like?
When we’re watching all the players practicing on the ice, somebody asked me who is the hardest working guy out there. My answer is Dean Evason. My God, he is a hard, hard working coach. He is on the ice directing all the plays, all the practices, the scrimmages. You’d see him on the bus and on the airplane. He’s constantly looking at video and talking to the assistants. I am very happy with what I see out of Dean.
Mikko Koivu is 37 years old. Will he return for next season?
I have no idea. There will be time for that discussion. That will be Mikko’s decision and Bill’s decision.
How long is it financially sustainable for the Wild to play without fans in stands?
We’re fine for next year. It’s hard, it’s expensive and obviously we lose a lot of money. You can’t have fans, that’s your No. 1 source of revenue. Next year we already have it figured out (a budgeted loss). If we don’t have fans (at some point during the season), we don’t. We’re going to have to find other ways to generate revenue if we can. We have to find a way to survive and we’ll do that.
What’s your reaction to speculation that because the season was cut short, the franchise lost millions of dollars and sustained the biggest deficit since you bought the club in 2008?
Yeah, I would confirm that.
What are your thoughts about the upcoming NHL Draft?
We have the ninth pick and that’s not a bad pick. It’s a great draft. It’s a deep draft so we think our ninth pick is going to be a really, really good player.