The Twins Plan for Fans
In the office suite at 1 Twins Way (and in various home offices), Minnesota Twins staffers are feverishly redistributing season ticket holders around the ballpark to accommodate Covid-19 strictures.
The Twins home opener on April 8 and the Timberwolves Target Center tilt with Houston on April 5 will be the first major fan-attended sporting events in downtown Minneapolis since the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Wolves on March 8, 2020. Twins President Dave St. Peter calls it “a coming out party for downtown,” which has been all but deserted for a year.
Under Gov. Tim Walz’s recent rollbacks on business restrictions, the Wolves can admit up to 3,000 fans for the final 12 home games of a delayed season that ends May 16. The Twins, meanwhile, are planning for fans at all 81 home games, and expecting to gradually add seating beyond the 10,000 initially allowed in the roughly 40,000 seat ballpark. On March 1, the team queried its roughly 12,000 season ticket holders about returning to the ballpark. Half chose to defer via credits for tickets to be sold at monthly presales. The rest want to return, and the team is manually reallocating them around the ballpark to comply with distancing guidelines.
St. Peter expects to only have 1,000-2,000 seats for sale to the general public for each of the first slate of games through May 6.
“We’re trying to seat [season ticket holders] as close to their existing seats as possible,” he says. “Usually in their existing section.” One quirk of the new rules: Fans cannot be seated on the aisles. Despite playing only 30 home games last season — none in front of fans — the Twins retained 90 percent of season ticket accounts, says St. Peter. Each received monthly credits for missed games, with a 15 percent bonus.
St. Peter says his feedback indicates more concern about downtown safety than Covid protocols. He says fans are expressing a preference for day games and attached parking, indicating the massive image problem downtown entertainment venues face this summer. Its relative vacancy will allow most every fan who wants to use the skyway-connected ABC ramps to do so, St. Peter says. He assumes that a high percentage of fans who will attend the home opener have not been downtown in over a year. “Some activity is desperately needed,” he adds.
It remains an open question how many of the shuttered bars and restaurants near the ballpark will reopen for baseball, given there will be little else activating downtown in April and the cloud of the Chauvin trial hangs over center city. St. Peter hopes by season’s end in September a sense of normalcy will have returned, with office workers and entertainment venues back in full swing.
The Twins were widely estimated to have lost approximately $200 million last year. St. Peter says the team will not come close to breaking even in 2021 either. “If we make budget, we lose a lot of money,” he says. The Twins are one of a cohort of MLB teams that did not cut payroll or jobs during the pandemic.
One other sticking point this season is the team’s continuing struggles with broadcast providers. St. Peter says the team’s agreement with regional sports network (RSN) Fox Sports North (FSN) has several years to run. FSN was sold to Sinclair Broadcasting last year and will drop the Fox branding on April 1, becoming Bally’s Sports, as in Bally’s Casinos. This will facilitate all sorts of cross-marketing in states where sports betting is legal and non-gambling “gamification” in states like Minnesota.
But distribution of FSN has declined in recent years, as the expensive RSNs have fallen out of favor with cable/satellite/streaming providers. It’s no longer available on Dish Network and many of the streaming partners who carried it last year have walked away. AT&T is the only remaining streamer right now, St. Peter says, though most cable providers still offer FSN.
Things are looking up on the radio side, though, as Twins games can now be streamed on radio.com (rather than just through MLB.com), and games are now simulcast on “The Wolf” at 102.9 FM. “We saw a little different listenership on the FM side last year,” St. Peter notes. “Some younger demos. FM radio has been intriguing to us for some time. We consider it a huge success.”