While most people look at sports teams as entertainment, it's important for leaders to remember there's a lot to learn from watching how the business of professional sports and its owners are operating. This year, I closely watched the games and leadership lessons on display from my favorite basketball team: the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Timberwolves have an unlikely ownership combo: a New York businessman and a former New York baseball star with plenty of public scandals. These are the men who somehow earned the love and respect of a fan base that isn’t known for embracing those who aren’t “one of us.” Their brand playbook offers valuable insight many business leaders can apply to their own teams.
Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez bought the team and leaned into the pre-established culture. (I applaud their teams and the people behind their social strategies.) They quickly identified the stakeholders: fans, sports influencers and players. They leveraged their social media platforms by posting images at well-known Minneapolis locations, dining at hot spots and cozying up to sports influencers. I watched how Lore and Rodriguez engaged with players at games, and it’s clear they have a relationship. They also publicly talk about their pride in the players.
Being visible is one thing, being accessible is another. Lore and Rodriguez often pose for selfies with fans and run contests to give away tickets. Lore even created a bit of a viral trend by taking his shoes off when the Wolves are about to win. This quickly spread online as he encouraged fans to watch at home and share pics with their shoes off. He found a way to get a key stakeholder community to be actively engaged online.
These strategies would’ve been less effective and would’ve taken longer if the two didn’t already have massive social media followings. Rodriguez alone has more than 1.2 million followers on Twitter and over 4 million on Instagram. Building a following, granted your average business leader’s social media audience likely won’t reach pro-athlete levels, is critical so when it’s time to leverage social media to intentionally and strategically share messages there is already a curated audience ready to engage.
While the Timberwolves won’t win the championship, the 2021-22 season provides a winning playbook for any leader or brand:
Certainly this new ownership group and the staffing changes they’ve made led to a great season (that ended too early), but it appears they are playing the long game. Like any leader looking for long-term success, they will continue building a culture of engagement, excitement, accessibility and (fingers crossed) wins!