SBJ/September 25 - October 1, 2006/This Weeks News

Lexus Experience rolling out with T-Wolves

The Minnesota Timberwolves are doing everything but tattooing their most exclusive season-ticket holders with Lexus logos after signing a two-year sponsorship deal that moves the luxury automaker further into experiential marketing.

Dinner and drinks at the NBA City restaurant
is only part of the Lexus Experience.
The Timberwolves will introduce the Lexus Experience this coming NBA season, an all-inclusive courtside seat package that prominently displays the black-and-silver Lexus brand throughout the premium-seat patron’s stay at Target Center.

“We’re going to hit them over the head with it,” said Ethan Casson, Timberwolves vice president of corporate sales and services.

Team officials declined to reveal the financial terms. An official in Lexus’ corporate office in New Jersey did not return calls for comment.

The deal expands on an agreement with the Timberwolves in which the carmaker paid for television advertising and received game tickets and hospitality in Target Center’s Cambria Club, a party suite.

Lexus sponsors parking lots reserved for Lexus vehicles at three sports facilities and premium space at 13 arenas and stadiums. That includes KeyArena in Seattle, where the SuperSonics are completing a similar deal with Lexus to sponsor the suite level, lounge space and preferred parking.

“They will own significant branding and venues in our building,” said Brian Byrnes, the Sonics’ vice president of sales and marketing.

Casson detailed Timberwolves courtside seat holders’ journey through Lexus Land from start to finish:

  • They drop their vehicles in front of the arena and hand the keys to a valet attendant wearing a Lexus hat and jacket and possibly a Lexus turtleneck sweater to fend off Minnesota’s winter winds.
  • They walk through the exclusive Lexus-branded arena entrance and into the Lexus Room to store their coats and handbags. Free beer, wine and appetizers are available and they get the night’s promotional gate giveaway.
  • They pick up their Lexus ticket lanyards in the Lexus Room to wear around their necks that identifies them as members of the Lexus Experience and provides access to all Lexus-sponsored spaces.
  • They enter the NBA City restaurant next door for a complimentary buffet-style dinner served on a roped-off, elevated platform distinguished by Lexus branding.
  • Already at event level, they walk from the restaurant through a set of glass doors and directly to their courtside seats, which are black leather chairs bearing Lexus logos.
  • At halftime, it’s back to the Lexus-sponsored space in NBA City for free cocktails before catching the rest of the game.
  • After the game, it’s back to the Lexus Room to wait for the concierge to announce that the valet has arrived with their vehicles.

“Now we’ve got our own club,” said Steve Bennett, a Timberwolves season-ticket holder and vice president for Village Automotive Group, a collection of Lexus dealers in the Twin Cities. Bennett collaborated with team officials on the concept.The Lexus Experience is limited to the 246 people holding courtside tickets, and Bennett realizes not all of those customers drive Lexus vehicles.

Those individuals could receive premium gift items courtesy of Lexus but Bennett said he does not plan to give them brochures or force them to watch a marketing video.

“We’re going after a captive audience vs. rewarding our own customers and we want this to be a luxury experience, not a car sales pitch,” Bennett said. “It’s not a time-share deal.”

Season-ticket prices for courtside seats at Target Center range from $300 to $600 a game for the first four rows of seats under each basket and the first row of seats along one sideline, to $1,500 a game for the 16 new seats between the benches and scorers table.

As of last week, the Timberwolves had sold all but two of the $1,500 seats and about 200 of the 230 seats under the basket and along one sideline.

The Timberwolves are doing all they can to meet the challenges of marketing their product at the Target Center, the NBA’s seventh-oldest arena, which opened in 1990. The front-to-back Lexus branding is one example, Casson said.

“We’re an older facility and didn’t have a bunch of restaurants to be named,” Casson said. “This is more of a club in membership only.”

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