SBJ/March 25-31, 2013/Franchises

Timberwolves peg season-ticket price rise to performance

The Minnesota Timberwolves have joined the ranks of NBA franchises that are offering season-ticket packages with year-round benefits.

The plan carries a pricing-related twist that makes it unique among other teams’ programs, and it aims to entice the Wolves’ fan base after an unexpectedly disappointing season for the team on the court. It also comes as Minnesota prepares to increase the average cost of season tickets for next season by 10 percent. That increase, however, is the result of an offer the Wolves rolled out in January that called for a 20 percent price hike if the team made the playoffs, or a 10 percent increase if the team did not.

With a 23-42 record last Wednesday, 11 games behind the Los Angeles Lakers for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff seed, Minnesota is planning on the 10 percent hike.

The Wolves are the only NBA team to offer a performance-based ticket-pricing strategy this season, according to the league.

“It is a new wrinkle and it is a risk, but we are OK with it,” said Wolves President Chris Wright. “A 20 percent increase would bring us closer to NBA [season-ticket] pricing averages, and we have said all along that the expectation is that we would be a playoff team.”

A lineup featuring all-star Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio had Minnesota fans anticipating a playoff drive this season, but injuries to Love and other key contributors derailed those plans. As of last week, the Wolves were averaging 16,330 fans per game at 19,356-seat Target Center. That compares to 17,517 fans per game to date during last year’s lockout-shortened season.

Full-season-ticket sales over the past few seasons have been strong, though, with the Wolves selling at least 2,000 new full-season packages in the past three years. The team has about 10,000 full-season tickets sold, and it posted a season-ticket renewal rate of 95 percent for this season after holding prices flat from 2011-12. Much of that increase was due to the anticipation of Rubio pairing with Love, expecting that wins would follow.

League projections for this year have the club renewing at a 70 percent clip for 2013-14. Wright said the actual renewal rate will be higher.

Among the other NBA teams that offer year-round benefits to fans buying full-season tickets are the Charlotte Bobcats (with their Cats 365 program) and the Washington Wizards (with the DC 12 Club). The Wolves’ twist on the ticket-selling trend — their program is yet unnamed — is to create a range of year-round benefits based on the price of the season ticket. There are five benefit levels.

“Our performance on the court has been less than stellar,” Wright said, “and this is a 365-day, holistic look at how we can get our stakeholders close to our players and staff.”

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