On Sunday, the Minnesota Lynx resumed play for the home stretch of the regular-season schedule following the Olympic break, hosting the New York Liberty at Target Center in Minneapolis. Not only was it exciting for the Lynx and their fans to have the WNBA back after a month-long break, but there was an added level of excitement with extra fans in the stands and crowds being allowed closer to the court than they have been this season.
“It is a different feeling. Of course, we love it,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said. “Hopefully, we can continue to grow from an attendance standpoint and make this place exactly what we want it to be, and that is the hardest place to play in the league.”
The Lynx announced they would be lifting COVID-19 attendance restrictions, which limited capacity to roughly 2-3,000 fans during the first half of the year. Spectators can be seated as close as courtside for the first time, although all fans in attendance are still required to wear masks during games.
“I’m happy that we do have our fans back on the floor. I think we have some of the best fans in the league,” Sylvia Fowles said. “They were loud, they were proud, and we are happy to be back home.”
Although the vibe in the crowd has continued to be important for longtime vice president of fan experience Jeff Münneke and the rest of the Lynx organization, the increased number of spectators allowed into Target Center will only make the experience that much better for everyone.
Pre-game and halftime festivities will continue to entertain fans while Munneke and the rest of his staff remain dedicated to providing a fun yet safe environment. In-arena seating situations have returned to normal. Previously, the sections closest to the court being blocked off and attendees spaced out by seat straps.
Since Target Center is a city-owned building, fans are still required to wear masks, but that is to ensure everyone can stay as safe as possible so attendance numbers can continue to climb for the rest of the WNBA season.
“First, we want to keep our fans safe. … We just want to ensure they are safe when they come into Target Center, and we’ve taken those steps,” Münneke said. “Secondly, we want fans to feel welcome coming into Target Center. We always say, when you invite someone into your house, how do you want them to feel? You want it to feel welcoming, you want it to be fun, and you want them to have a great time. All those things are starting to bounce back as we get through the COVID protocols now.”
Münneke said some safety measures include partnering with the nearby parking ramps to make sure crowds arrive and exit with ease. They’ve also added staff to provide a presence in front of Target Center to welcome fans and make sure they feel safe about entering the arena.
Munneke said it’s starting to feel like things are getting back to normal, which is a great thing to see as the Lynx hope for a steady increase in attendance to once again be one of the best environments in the WNBA.
“It’s so fun when you’re walking down First Avenue or Hennepin Avenue, and you have fans wearing their gear, people coming in their jerseys and people having a great time downtown getting ready for the game,” Münneke said. “Then once that tip comes, they are bringing it from the get-go. The timing of this could not be better that we are perhaps finally getting through this scenario and also charging towards the playoffs again.”
Filling Target Center Once Again
The lifting of the attendance restrictions comes at a perfect time, with just about a month remaining in the regular season.
Following Sunday’s win over New York, Minnesota improved to 13-7 overall while having won eight in a row to remain the No. 4 seed in the league standings. And as the Lynx look to make a return to the playoffs starting in late September, establishing that daunting home-court advantage will be key to put a strong postseason run together.
“We have the best fans in the WNBA. Our fans inside Target Center definitely deliver the goods for our players on a night-to-night basis,” Münneke said. “As you go through the history of our four championships, you think of how many electric nights we’ve had, even during the regular season. Our fans from the get-go are on their feet; they’re chanting ‘Whose House? Our House’ and they can’t wait to get in there.
“I think it does create that home-court advantage, even though we have had a smaller crowd,” Münneke continued. “Now that we can get back to maximum capacity and we start charging toward the playoffs, I think our fans are going to respond to that. … It is an electric place to be. When you talk about some of the best venues in the WNBA and just basketball, period, this has to be one of those great home-court advantages.”
In 2019, the Lynx ranked third in the WNBA in overall attendance and second in 2017 and 2018. Both on the Lynx and opposing teams, players and coaches have often talked about the electric atmosphere a packed Target Center can present.
“Our Lynx fans, they bring such great vibes and such incredible energy on a night-to-night basis. … Once the tip comes, they are fully invested in the game and what is happening on the court,” Münneke said. “The fans bring the energy level up, so it’s heightened for the players. … I can’t imagine what it’s like down on the court when the fans bring that energy to the team.”