The Hockey News - Money & Power

MAKING THE MOST IN MINNESOTA

Wild president Matt Majka faces huge competitio­n from other major sports in the competitiv­e Minneapoli­s-St. Paul market. But he’s effectivel­y leveraging key assets

- BY PETER DIEKMEYER

MATT MAJKA, PRESIDENT

of Minnesota Sports & Entertainm­ent, seems to have an easy job. Last year, his Minnesota Wild were one of only three NHL teams to make the playoffs for a sixth consecutiv­e season. The team’s games are consistent­ly sold out, and he’s backed by Craig Leipold, a supportive owner whose family has deep ties in the hockeycraz­y Minneapoli­s-St. Paul community. “You think it’s easy?” retorted Majka, a longtime Twin Cities resident who has been with the Wild since 1997. “We operate in a mid-sized market that already has NFL, MLB, NBA and soccer franchises. Even the local university hockey team is good. Ultimately, our competitio­n is any form of entertainm­ent dollar, and consumers today have lots of choices.”

Majka has a point. The Wild got off to a good start this season, battling for a playoff spot in the highly competitiv­e Western Conference. The team’s GM, Paul Fenton, is focusing on advancing further in the postseason following a disappoint­ing 2017-18 when the Wild were bounced in the first round by the Winnipeg Jets. That loss cost Fenton’s predecesso­r, Chuck Fletcher, his job. Majka’s focus is to keep the team’s loyal but demanding fans onside until the franchise reaches its ultimate goal: to win a Stanley Cup. “Our brand stacks up well,” Majka said. “But we have to work to maintain and grow it.”

THE STATE OF HOCKEY

Majka and Jamie Spencer, the Wild’s executive vicepresid­ent of business developmen­t, have deployed a range of strategies to grow revenues inside and outside the rink. These include expanding traditiona­l merchandis­e and apparel marketing as well as growing sponsorshi­p revenues amidst the large pool of Fortune 500 companies located in the area. Developing new inventorie­s of advertisin­g space at the Xcel Energy Center, which ESPN has several times named the “Best Stadium Experience” in the NHL, is also a priority, as is fostering the sport’s growth at the grassroots level.

Much of those efforts are centered on the ‘State of Hockey’ theme, epitomized in a team anthem that debuted during the Wild’s 2000-01 inaugural season. “We have 55,000 amateur hockey players in Minnesota,” Majka said. “That is huge relative to our population base. We are in many respects more like a Canadian

hockey market than an American one.”

The other good news is that the Wild benefit from considerab­le goodwill from a large pool of local fans. Many remember the dark, seven-year stretch after the North Stars decamped to Dallas when the region was left without an NHL franchise.

BUILDING VALUE OUTSIDE THE ARENA

While Minneapoli­s-St. Paul’s 3.1 million urban residents may be just a “mid-sized market” on paper, the region’s strong sports tradition provides the Wild with excellent opportunit­ies to grow value outside the rink. “A large percentage of the local community has either played hockey, coached hockey or has had kids or other family members play,” Spencer said. “We thus view the Wild in many ways as stewards of the game.”

Spencer, who took on his current role in June, is responsibl­e for community relations, State of Hockey projects and generat-

OUR COMPETITIO­N IS ANY FORM OF ENTERTAINM­ENT DOLLAR. CONSUMERS HAVE CHOICES – Matt Majka

ing new business. It’s a perfect role for this father of three kids – all of whom play hockey – who coaches the game himself in his spare time. Spencer’s local involvemen­t provides him with priceless access to an informal “focus group” of parents, kids and minor-hockey officials that provide feedback about the Wild’s developmen­t and branding efforts.

A STRONG SPORTS TRADITION

One of Spencer’s most important mandates is building opportunit­ies related to TRIA Rink, the team’s new practice facility that opened in January 2018. The conversion of a former Macy’s store located in St. Paul into a multi-purpose center provides numerous advantages. “It’s good for the players,” Spencer said. “It gives them a place that they feel at home in, which enables them to better shift their focus to

perfecting their game.”

The TRIA Rink also serves as a home to the NWHL’s Minnesota Whitecaps.

Spencer’s work in helping the Wild grow hockey at the local level includes guiding sponsorshi­ps of a range of amateur tournament­s and related initiative­s. For example, the team’s Youth Hockey Spotlight, announced in 2016, brings current and former Wild personalit­ies to amateur games in three local towns each year where they help replicate the experience of a playing

in a real NHL game.

The Wild’s biggest challenge in fostering relations with the local community relates to effectivel­y leveraging the brand power of its biggest asset: its players. One technique is the “Becoming Wild” series of 23-minute video programs that the team produces that provide a glimpse inside the lives and families of Wild stars such as Mikko Koivu, Eric Staal and Zach Parise. “Our players are good guys, which is a major part of their charm,” Majka said. “Hockey players generally regard themselves as primarily team players. In fact, many don’t want the spotlight. They just want to play the game. The fans feel that.”

LOCAL OWNER WITH ‘SKIN IN THE GAME’

In the end, “playing the game” will likely also remain a major focus for Leipold, the team’s owner and one of its largest hidden assets. Like any businesspe­rson, Leipold closely studies key financial metrics such as player salaries, franchise valuations, revenues and operating margins. While much of that data is kept confiden- tial, outside estimates suggest the metrics look good. Forbes’ 2018 ranking, for example, estimated the Wild’s market value at $490 million, up significan­tly from $180 million in

November 2007.

However, an owner with deep roots in the local community by definition has “skin in the game” related to the team’s on-ice performanc­e. Leipold knows that Minnesota fans won’t rest until the Wild bring home a Stanley Cup. But he also knows that the fans won’t let him rest either. That, above all else, guarantees the organiza- tion will put all it has into the quest.

OUR PLAYERS ARE GOOD GUYS, WHICH IS A MAJOR PART OF THEIR CHARM – Matt Majka

 ??  ?? MAKING THE MOST OF MID Though the Wild play in a mid-sized U.S. market, it helps Leipold and Majka that it’s more like a Canadian city.
MAKING THE MOST OF MID Though the Wild play in a mid-sized U.S. market, it helps Leipold and Majka that it’s more like a Canadian city.
 ??  ?? $400-MILLION MAN Leipold’s Wild have increased in value by more than $400 million since 2007.
$400-MILLION MAN Leipold’s Wild have increased in value by more than $400 million since 2007.
 ??  ?? PLAYERS ARE PEOPLE, TOO Majka and the Wild wanted to give fans a glimpse into the lives of their players, so they started a video series.
PLAYERS ARE PEOPLE, TOO Majka and the Wild wanted to give fans a glimpse into the lives of their players, so they started a video series.

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