Ethan Casson, 43, has been on the job as CEO of the Timberwolves and Lynx — teams owned by Glen Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune — for a little over a year and has played a significant role in shaping some of the “New Era” initiatives — including the recent release of new Timberwolves uniforms. Casson chatted recently with the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand.
Q: What kind of process is it to coordinate with Nike on new uniforms?
A: It’s a huge undertaking. For us, what made it unique is we were the only team also changing all of our logos. ... We couldn’t design a uniform until we determined what we wanted the logo to be. Then you sit down and begin the process of what we wanted the design to look like. It was pretty intensive, and Nike played a pivotal role. And we’re doing them in stages. So right now it’s kind of like a puzzle that doesn’t have all the pieces down yet.
Q: Just as there are people who are enthusiastically pro or con about new uniforms, you probably found the same thing when you announced the Fitbit logo was going on jerseys. How did that decision come about?
A: When the patch concept was approved, it was really up to each team to decide about that piece of inventory and if it was something we wanted to do. It’s been neat to see the different brands showcased around the league. For the Timberwolves specifically, it was really important for us to find the right partner and to do it for the 2017-18 season to go along with this new era. Timingwise, it couldn’t be better. I really think we got the right brand. It’s a technology company and a health and wellness company.
Q: You have the preseason games in China, the Target Center renovation, the new logo and jersey. There’s so much going on. How much of that is intentional to have happen at once and how much came together organically or coincidentally?
A: When you start to map out a calendar year, you look for a theme that’s happening organically within the Timberwolves and Lynx. And there are a lot of new things happening. So how do we identify those things and amplify the story of each? Certainly timing is a factor, but a lot of it is intentional and laid out a certain way. This is Chapter 1 of a new era, with plenty more chapters to come.
Q: How much of the success of the marketing side will be predicated, still, on what happens on the court this season with the Wolves?
A: The success of any team on the court and off of it from a marketing and sales side, they certainly coexist. One helps drive the other. But you can’t build it with that solely in mind. It’s a process, and [Tom Thibodeau] has even spoken about that in offseason press conferences with this being building a championship mind-set. Similarly, we’re building a championship and winning mind-set on the business side.
Q: What feedback are you getting from fans so far?
A: We’ve gone past the number of new season tickets that we sold all of last year. We surpassed that two weeks ago. The response has been incredible. On the renewal side, we’re renewing at a higher percentage than we have for many years. All indicators and data points right now are suggesting incredible momentum and optimism.