Timberwolves' belt-tightening offers hint of NBA's CBA mind-set
"Glen Taylor likes businesses with problems." So began the magazine profile in September, part of
Only now, maybe not so much. In just six months, Taylor -- the owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves and assorted companies in industries as unrelated as chicken farms and wedding-invitation printing plants -- has gotten poorer along with the rest of us. His net worth last fall, estimated by
Not to worry: Taylor still has his seven million chickens hard at work on his agribusiness production lines in Iowa and Minnesota, laying what gets sold as liquefied eggs to restaurants and food companies. He hasn't had to cut any grim deals with KFC or invite a few of his top producers home for (gulp) dinner. But he has laid off some human workers across his various enterprises. And the "business with problems" he's most intimately involved with now is one that, for so long, seemed recession-proof: The T'wolves.
"I'm very concerned for pro sports," Taylor said. "I could talk about banks or health care or the media business. I don't think pro sports is protected in any sense." Before revving into remarks that would veer into future NBA bargaining strategies with the players and earn him a swift rebuke from commissioner
A self-made mogul from Mankato, Minn., and currently chairman of the NBA Board of Governors, Taylor bought low and owns high, like so many franchise owners across the major North American sports leagues. He paid $88.5 million in 1995 for the sputtering Minnesota team, gambled a high draft pick on a kid named
But Garnett proved to be the goods, leading the Wolves to eight consecutive playoff appearances. The team contributed to, and tagged along on, the league's popularity, prospered under Stern's masterful and steely marketing touch, and was rewarded with serious nine-figure appreciation: as recently as December, Taylor's franchise was valued by
Claiming that, though, and finding the next greater fool (as the investing theory goes) willing to fork over that price are two different things, as homeowners have learned across the land. Taylor didn't get where he's at by denial. He sees the empty blue and green seats at Target Center, more gaping than ever; the Wolves rank 27th in home attendance, averaging 14,099. That's a slide of 16 spots and 3,536 fans (20 percent) from five years ago, when the team went 58-24 and reached the Western Conference finals. Yet Minnesota's payroll tops $66 million, for a team on pace to win 24 times -- that's $2.75 million per victory, or the equivalent of shelling out $159 million to that '03-04 roster.
No wonder Taylor and his basketball guy,
"I still think there's a star element -- movie stars, singers, basketball players -- that's just part of this country," said the owner, who pegged his operating losses at $40 million over the past three seasons (signing
Ding-ding-ding! That's a hint of the NBA's strategy regarding the mid-level exception and veteran's minimum salaries. McHale then took aim at the size and length of guaranteed contracts, another likely battlefield.
"The guarantees now are way too long and [for] way too much money," McHale said, recalling talks he had with older Celtics legend
"I remember when there was nobody in the stands," McHale said. "This generation of players doesn't know anything about that, but I think they'll find out. These guys make a lot of money and truly are blessed to play a game for a living. I don't think there will be a lot of sympathy from the fans."
Instead, and no doubt to build a little good will, the Wolves are showing some
Taylor calls it an "insurance program" for fans. Unfortunately, that coverage doesn't include team performance; hours after the Wolves announced their new plan, the club sleepwalked through a 118-94 drubbing by Golden State in a junior-varsity atmosphere at Target Center. Even next year, there will be no refunds for blowout losses or even lousy play.
But in terms of financials, Taylor is hoping that whatever his operation gives up in ticket dollars comes back, plus, in number of tickets sold. And "hope" is about all anyone is hanging his hat on these days, whether it's a trucker's cap, a Texas tycoon's Stetson or a baseball cap worn sideways.
"These are very difficult economic times," the Minnesota owner said. "We don't know what's going to happen over this next year in our country, no matter what anyone says."