Minnesota Timberwolves look for new corporate sponsor that will promote social awareness

Key Points
  • The Minnesota Timberwolves' jersey patch is now open after the team's deal with Fitbit expired. 
  • COO Ryan Tanke told CNBC the NBA franchise wants a brand that will help "create impact in our community" following Covid-19 and the killing of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer. 
General view of the Minnesota Timberwolves logo shown on game shorts in a NBA game against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena on January 25, 2019 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Gene Sweeney Jr. | Getty Imgaes

The Minnesota Timberwolves' season is officially over, and as the NBA team looks to turn the page, it wants to use the sponsored patch on players' jerseys to include a company that aligns with its renewed mission of combating racism and social inequality.

The Timberwolves' partnership has expired with Fitbit, which is being acquired by Google.

Team COO Ryan Tanke told CNBC the Timberwolves are looking for a sponsor that will help "create impact in our community" and "be a champion for social advancement" as Minnesota tries to heal following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. (Fitbit is in the process of being acquired by Google.)

"What we've learned is it's much more than just a physical patch, and that's certainly the most visible expression of the relationship," Tanke said. "But if we find the right partner, it truly becomes an extension of our organization."

Revenue aside, the Timberwolves have had the most difficulty among sports teams since March 12, when the NBA's season was suspended due to Covid-19. Timberwolves star center Karl-Anthony Towns' mother, Jacqueline, died on April 13 due to Covid-19. Then came the Floyd killing on Memorial Day.

Tanke said these events are "critically important," adding that Floyd's killing "unlocked for us this chance to be a vocal leader with Minneapolis being the epicenter of this."

He added: "We want to be a vocal leader against social injustice and systemic racism."

The National Basketball Association's jersey patch program was extended after a three-year trial run in 2016. For the first time this season, jersey patch partnerships were sold out. According to Sports Business Journal, the program has generated more the $150 million for the league.

Patch deals for larger markets usually start in the low eight figures, with smaller-sized markets ranging mid-to-high seven figures. The Golden State Warriors have the most expensive patch agreement ($20 million per season) with Japanese ad-tech company Rakuten. The Los Angeles Lakers have a deal with tech company Wish for about $14 million per season.

The Timberwolves are using management and marketing agency powerhouse Excel Sports to handle its open jersey patch account. Emilio Collins, Excel Sports Management's chief business officer, said more brands are showing "corporate responsibility and social initiatives … in a more pronounced and prominent way than we've ever seen before," since the pandemic.

Collins said brands see the value of patch partnerships through the league's global reach and its "young and multicultural fan base."

Collins, who was an executive at the NBA office when the patch programs started, views the ideal partner for the Timberwolves as a brand "that has a story to tell in for both that market and beyond," he said.

"It has to be an organization that sees this asset, this type of partnership as a game-changing catalyst for their business and their brand," Collins said. "They need to see tremendous value in the Minnesota marketplace as well as the national audience of NBA fans … combined with a real desire to make a true impact in communities."

Tanke said the Timberwolves are engaged in "active conversations that we are excited about." He also said the team was disappointed it didn't get an invitation to resume play in Orlando next month but added that "there is a benefit also to be able to turn a page and turn 100% of our focus into the 2020-21 season."

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