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
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
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