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>Cleaning House

>Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where we always enter the playoffs playing our best ball of the year.

You may have read that the Minnesota Wild, in the span of a single week, lost their coach and fired their general manager. The beat reporters covering the Timberwolves also believe that the long-suffering Wolves will have a new GM and coach by the time they tip off the 2009-10 season. This is not surprising – of course, both teams have been associated for some time with sustained mediocrity. The Wild haven’t been past the first round of the playoffs since 2004 and have botched some personnel decisions, and the Wolves have been even worse to the point that apathy runs rampant through their supposed fan base.

These changes mark seminal moments in the life of both franchises, but to me these decisions go beyond wins and losses. Decisions like these are big risks – it doesn’t seem like things could get worse, but wrong hires could send the franchises into absolute disarray on and off the ice/court. But the owners are taking these risks (finally, some would argue) to try to inject life in their fan bases and, even more fundamentally in my opinion, bolster their bottom lines.

Fans in Minnesota seem more forgiving than in other areas of the nation, but they’ve been growing weary and apathetic lately. They feel their teams underachieve, and that ownership has ignored them and their wishes when making big decisions. Now teams shouldn’t automatically do everything fans say they should do, but the lack of success resulting from the decisions that have been made hasn’t exactly quieted the doubters. Plus, you don’t want to consistently alienate fans to the point where they grow apathetic.

So these moves, to me, are examples of the owners telling fans that they do in fact matter and that they’re trying to put a winning product on the ice/court. Sales of just about everything have been down, and buzz/interest around the teams have dropped. When this happens even with the Wild, a very popular team that’s sold out every home game it’s ever played, that’s something definitely worth noting. Changes at the top will give team marketers a powerful new tool with which to reverse these trends: optimism.

Plus, teams need to show they’re making an effort to win in order to keep the big checks coming in from sponsors, etc. As I’ve written before, companies with winning brands want to associate themselves with winning teams, and the closest thing to a winner in Minnesota winter sports this year was the Gopher mens’ basketball team. With the Wolves especially, simple supply and demand economics would dictate that the quality of sponsor hasn’t necessarily been high lately – and that sponsorships the team does have might not be earning the same dollars that similar deals may be with higher-performing teams in the NBA. It’s just good business to make changes that improve your ability to compete and monetize/maximize your assets, and new leadership and resulting sucecss changes the complete landscape from ticket sales to TV contracts to in-venue advertising.

The Wild and Timberwolves, like any other business in these tough economic times, are doing what they feel they need to do to make the most money they can: cleaning house in the front office and injecting buzz/optimism back into their franchises. For the good of the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, I hope it works…oh, and a few more wins wouldn’t be too much to ask either, would it?

That’s all for now. I’m out like the entire Washington Natinals organization (no, that’s not a typo…that’s really what their jerseys said. Honest).

1 Comment
  1. >Well, to me, this is really the first time the Wild have been faced with a re-building off-season. Lemaire has been there since day 1, as has Risebrough and Gaborik. The Timberwolves, it seems to me, consistently are looking for front-office personnel in the off-season, and it takes time away from finding players to put on the court. As far as the Wild, it will be interesting to see what the fans do. Will they keep filling the X, or will the sellouts stop, if owner Craig Leipold makes a bad move? I’m nervous, the Wild had a good thing going, and it only takes a bad seed to run the entire thing into the ground. It’ll be interesting.

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