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Volume 21 No. 13
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Wolves, Barnstormers thrive in Des Moines

The NBA G League Iowa Wolves are among the elder statesmen of minor league basketball, having been in Des Moines for a decade. Only Sioux Falls, S.D., home to a hoops team since 1989, can boast a longer active tenure.

After an eventful summer for the Wolves on the business side, it’s clear that the sport has a bright future in the city.

In May, the Minnesota Timberwolves bought and rebranded the club, which had been called the Iowa Energy since its inception. The move has been positive for the Wolves.

The NBA G League Iowa Wolves have been a stronghold in the market for 10 years.

Kyle Davy, the team’s chief revenue officer, said season-ticket sales increased by 3 percent last season over the previous year, and he’s projecting an increase of twice that this season. Davy also said that while a 32 percent increase in sponsorship revenue from 2015-16 to 2016-17 was impressive, the coming campaign will be even better.
“I expect an 82 percent increase from 2016-17 to this season as we transition to our new brand,” he said.

The club drew roughly 110,000 fans in each of the past two seasons, up 29 percent from its inaugural season a decade ago, according to SBJ research.

Even with that, there may be no better example of the city’s sports resiliency than Wells Fargo Arena’s other tenant.

An empty seat at a Iowa Barnstormers football game from 1995 to 2000 was a rare sight, as the AFL team routinely packed venerable 10,000-seat Veterans Memorial Auditorium. But the aging building lacked the revenue streams needed to keep the franchise competitive, and after being relegated to the af2, the team’s attendance plummeted and it folded in 2001.

When Wells Fargo Arena opened in 2008, the Barnstormers were reborn — first as part of the af2, then the AFL and, for the past three seasons, the Indoor Football League. And despite the seven-year hiatus, they remain one of the sport’s top draws, averaging 7,100 fans a game over the past five years.

— David Broughton