The Twin Cities is the smallest metropolitan market in the U.S. that boasts six major league teams, including one reigning champion (Minnesota Lynx); a minor league baseball club; and a Power 5 conference member, along with several small colleges and universities with successful sport programs.
“It’s exciting for fans… Six teams have to function successfully in a small market,” University of Minnesota Associate Kinesiology-Sport Management Professor Lisa Kihl declared at a November 8 panel discussion at the Gophers football stadium. She later told the MSR the two-hour event’s purpose, attended mostly by students, was to hear from the team executives she invited — the Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx, and the “host” Gophers.
The Minnesota Wild, who was playing that night, also was invited but were unable to attend.
Sports industry buzzwords such as “brand,” “fan experience” and “analytics” dominated the discussion.
It’s “the explosion of big data” that has changed sport and how he and other executives make decisions and plan for the future, said Minnesota Timberwolves Chief Revenue Officer Ryan Tanke.
Minnesota Vikings Marketing and Fan Engagement Vice President Dannon Hulskotter admitted that technology poses another competition for teams in “creating a fan experience” at games.
“Social media is a big part of what we do,” said Gophers AD Mark Coyle, the “CEO” of 25 programs. “We’re different than the professional [teams].”
Bryan Donaldson, Minnesota Twins Senior Community Relations director, forecasted, “In the very near future [fans] are going to be able to point a phone at a particular player and be able to find out right now who the player is, what they are doing, their [batting] average and their stats for the day” from their stadium seat while watching the game.
“The social media has given us many platforms. It changed the game,” Taske said.
All four team execs in essence admit that sports today is no longer about just being at the arena or stadium and just watching the game. They confirmed what has been going on for some time — that games have become live events akin to being at an arcade, with flashing lights, endless music, sound effects and commercials played annoyingly loud all throughout the contest.
It definitely bothers this reporter, who constantly watches people blindly using two thumbs on their phones like old Morse code operators. Today’s in-game experience certainly isn’t what I grew up with when I went to games.
Hulskotter affirmed that the Vikings now are seeking fans “at a young age,” as early as grade schoolers. “You got to understand what your audience is,” Tanks points out.
“Our job is to get 16- and 17-year-old kids to say yes to the University of Minnesota,” and having successful pro teams in town certainly helps, said Coyle.
Asked if these teams and the Gophers’ outreach efforts to attract and keep fans include reaching out to Blacks, who aren’t seen at most games in large numbers, the panelists’ responses included:
“There’s room for growth” said Donaldson, noting that the Twins do indeed reach out to the Black community. “How do we become a part of their community?” he asked.
The Gophers regularly talk about “embracing diversity,” said Coyle.
Understanding the area’s different segments of the population is important, stated Taske.
The Vikings’ outreach efforts, especially in underserved communities “are on the rise,” said Hulskotter.
The current Twin Cities sports landscape continues to evolve: “We are still scratching the surface on what we are going to see in the next five years,” said Taske.
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