Christopher Robin Zimmerman became a Minnesota Timberwovles season ticket-holder by chance.
Really: In 2009, Zimmerman's wife won season tickets to the Target Center, which put them in the "nosebleed" section, watching a Kevin Love-led, Kurt Rambis-coached team go 15-67, the worst record in the NBA that year.
Zimmerman has been a (paying) ticket-holder every year since then, though a few things have changed. He and his wife later divorced, and he moved from the upper deck to a better seat closer to the court. That seat was more expensive, but moderately so, during a stretch of lean years for the franchise.
Then another thing changed: Starting last fall, the Timberwolves got really, really good. Even after a loss last night in Portland, Minnesota is 31-19, good for fourth in the West, one game behind the San Antonio Spurs.
If they keep up this pace, the Timberwolves will host a first-round playoff series at the Target Center. Regardless, the franchise is set to make the playoffs for the first time since the team's run to the conference finals in 2003-04.
"Some victories have been very satisfying," says Zimmerman, a 46-year-old technical writer and Minneapolis resident. "Some have been of the 'why can't they keep a lead?' variety. But the fact that they still pull out the win ... is a marked difference from previous years."
This newfound success is not lost on the franchise. This past Friday, Zimmerman received an email with "IMPORTANT INFORMATION" about his "Timberwolves membership," which was scheduled to automatically renew in mid-February.
The important information was about the price. This year, Zimmerman's paying $4,346, or about $100 a ticket for 41 Timberwolves home games. The same seat next year would cost him $6,090 -- a one-year leap of about 40 percent.
The 2018-19 price would be automatically charged to Zimmerman's credit card, unless opts out of the deal by February 15 -- which he will.
"Maybe SOMEBODY is interested in paying that price," Zimmerman wrote to friends on Facebook, "but even if I could afford it, there's no way I would."
The Timberwolves, for their part, are confident someone will. In a response to City Pages about the ticket price change, the franchise said it had "worked diligently to minimize price increases" in recent years, and recognized the "abundantly patient" fans who stood by through "the rebuilding of our team," plus $140 million worth of renovations to make the Target Center a "first-class" arena.
The franchise sees the rate hike as a cost correction. This year, average season tickets to the Target Center put Minnesota in the "bottom five out of 30 teams," a ranking not reflective of the on-court product. Even once these 2018-19 increases go into effect, the average cost of Wolves tickets will rank in the bottom third of the league.
Nearly 5,000 season tickets available for 2018-19 will sell for only $15 per game (total: $615), "among the most affordable season ticket options in the NBA," the team says.
The Timberwolves' statement continues:
"With the positive direction that our franchise is headed on the court, we want to continue to take steps in helping us reach our ultimate goal of an NBA Championship. Being able to retain our existing talent and recruit additional pieces to the puzzle are key in this endeavor. The championship caliber teams in this league that we are chasing – and that our record and playoff standing is in line with – all have season ticket pricing which rank in the upper half of the NBA."
Few people want the Timberwolves to reach that strata more than Zimmerman, who says he plans to attend every playoff game this season. ("I shudder to think how much they'll wring out of me for their first playoffs as a [season ticket holder].")
As for next season, he'll watch most games, home and away, on TV, while occasionally trying to score cheap, still-available Target Center tickets shortly before tip-off. He thinks other current season ticket holders might do the same... unless, as the team clearly hopes, it turns out there are enough people out there willing to pay these new prices.
"I know this is a business," Zimmerman says. "And I know I shouldn't expect any loyalty to me from the team. But they spent a lot of years -- a lot of very bad years on the court -- trying very hard to keep their core happy, and it feels like as soon as they started to taste some success, that all dissolved away really quickly."