An opportunity arose through school to see the Minnesota Timberwolves play the Hornets came up this last Friday.  It was a great game and we won, which is hardly a foregone conclusion.  The Timberwolves are my all time favorite sports team (I’m a big basketball fan and a huge homer) so it was great to get out to the game.

More interesting though, was the President of  the business, Chris Wright (scroll down the page) and a small speech he gave before the game.  His main articulation was around the economy and the effect it has on the business.  In entertainment focused businesses (movies, television, music, events of all kinds) we often get caught up in the product and forget to think of the business behind it; well, I certainly do.  Who wants to think about lowering cost of goods sold/services rendered when Randy Foye is going off for 24 and 9?  But Mr. Wright really brought the levity of the situation into perspective.  The Wolves will not be profitable this year and the potential for next year is weighing heavily on their organization.  He spoke about the marketing mix and offering that they needed to find in order to motivate consumers.  He believes that there is an offering that will get people out to games, citing corporate cut backs (e.g. they stay in the city instead of retreats) and high traffic for movie theaters as representation of consumer interest.  Frankly, I think he’s right, there is a lot of opportunity for the Wolves to sell tickets.  

The business was broken down into two buckets, if I remember correctly, ticket sales and league revenues.  It seems to me that their organization is primarily focused on improving ticket sales.  Strategically speaking, I’d like to see what the Wolves do to build a fan base early and often.  Minnesota is not a basketball city.  As noted, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles regularly sell out there games.  Minneapolis could be that kind of city, with the right type of marketing and dedication.

I differed with Chris when he spoke about the product.  Paraphrasing, he said that being in this business was similar to trying to sell a car that won’t start 60 times out of 100.  How do you sell that?  Good question.  It’s true that management has little to no real say in how the team actually plays, which is a tremendous part of the product.  But as a marketer for this business, you aren’t speaking about just wins and losses.  You are a purveyor of an entertainment destination and inclusion group.  I love the Wolves and have since I was a kid, yet I’ve never reached out to the organization and they haven’t done likewise.  It would be interesting to see the types of programs they offer in order to build fan base and if they have metrics in place for LVC or how good of a handle they have on customer retention beyond season tickets.  That’s easy.  Tell me how many times the average single white female attends a game in a season and if she buys face value or only purchases at discount, as well as the volume of those kinds of segments and specific marketing behind it.  Now we’re building something.  The Timberwolves should (and probably do) focus on kids and building life time fans of the team.  I’m a life time fan.  How many games have I been to?  Not enough.

 So the easy way out for management is to blame the play of the team.  Parity is a given in any professional sport.  And you are absolutely correct, MPLS is not New York.  From a marketing perspective, you have to view your product as a constant.  Some times you’ll win 50 games, sometimes you’ll win 30 (and unfortunately for the Wolves, occasionally less) but the product is essentially the same.  It’s entertainment.  What’s great for the business is that it’s not a one shot wonder, a individual performance to be judged on its own merit (like a movie).  It’s a tribe of devoted and caring fans that grew up with and love basketball.  Market that, not W’s and L’s.