Timberwolves to open retail store in Target Center

Updated: August 13, 2003, 5:52 AM ET

MINNEAPOLIS -- This fall, the Minnesota Timberwolves will join its major league brethren in the Twin Cities by opening a pro shop.

The Gym, a 1,000-square-foot pro shop in Target Center, will be the team's first foray into the retailing game, which capitalizes on fans willing to spend big bucks to demonstrate their team loyalties. The shop also will lead to the new Block E entertainment and retail complex in downtown Minneapolis.

The Minnesota Twins organization is the local retail veteran, having opened its first Pro Shop in Roseville in 1990. In St. Paul, the Xcel Energy Center has the Minnesota Wild Hockey Lodge store near the box office and another shop inside the arena.

The Wolves' timing might be fortuitous: Sales of licensed sports merchandise rose 8 percent in 2002 after five years of declines, according to The Licensing Letter, a New York City-based trade publication. Overall, 2002 retail sales in the $71.5 billion licensed merchandise industry in the United States and Canada increased 2 percent from the previous year.

Sports merchandise sales also get a boost when a team is successful on the court, field or rink.

The Timberwolves have made several offseason acquisitions -- including players Latrell Sprewell, Sam Cassell and Michael Olowokandi -- expected to help a team known for its struggles in the playoffs.

"The blueprint of almost every new stadium is to have a team shop," some as large as 8,000 square feet, said Mike Harmon, director of marketing for the Minnesota Vikings.

This season the Vikings will have a 70-foot by 30-foot, heated merchandise tent outside the Metrodome during its home games.

The Vikings' retail business, like the Timberwolves', is handled by an outside vendor. In contrast, the Twins and Wild each handle retail operations in-house. The teams declined to disclose sales figures for the stores.

The Timberwolves' Gym store will be run by Target Center retail concessionaire Event Merchandising Inc. The store plans to offer merchandise that is not available at the scores of other retailers that carry sports-related items.

"When the Target Center was built, no one thought of team shops in stadiums. It's time to get into the year 2000," said Jim Bastyr, the arena's retail operations manager.

The Gym will be open year-round and during event nights.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index