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Published October 02 2010

EXPANDED: Sanford caught in Twins-Timberwolves tiff over sign overlooking Target Field

Sanford Health’s marketing chief said Friday he didn’t anticipate the level of controversy over a Sanford sign being hung on the Target Center façade overlooking the new Target Field in Minneapolis, much to the chagrin of the Minnesota Twins.

But he’s also not complaining about the publicity it’s generating for the health care provider.

“We didn’t expect this kind of noise and exposure,” said Andrew Richburg, executive vice president of marketing for Sanford. “But certainly with all the exposure we’re getting out of this, it’s an incredibly good investment from that perspective, as long as it ends in a positive result here.”

The Minnesota Timberwolves unveiled a rendering of the sign Thursday with a news release announcing a multi-year extension of the NBA team’s corporate partnership with Sioux Falls, S.D.- and Fargo-based Sanford that began during the 2008-09 season.

The Twins and some Twin Cities public officials criticized the sign, which will debut in time for the Twins’ first postseason game on Wednesday.

Twins President Dave St. Peter, a Bismarck native who graduated from the University of North Dakota, was quoted by the Minneapolis Star Tribune as saying he always knew Target Field “would be ambushed by a sign of this nature, either on Target ­Center or somewhere else. What we were most surprised by is the sheer size of the sign … how the sign dominates the civic gathering place known as Target Plaza.”

Minneapolis City Council member Lisa Goodman was quoted by the Minneapolis newspaper as saying she’s “just disgusted by it,” and Hennepin County Board Chairman Mike Opat was quoted as saying the sign will “cheapen” the public art and spirit of Target Plaza.

Richburg said Sanford didn’t actively seek out the ad space, which will dominate the ballpark’s view over right field. Rather, the Timberwolves approached Sanford with the opportunity late this summer when negotiations with other interested parties fell through, he said.

Sanford and the Timberwolves have ties in several areas.

Sanford handles the Wolves’ nutrition and hydration in preseason planning, and the Wolves and Minnesota Lynx WNBA team donate money to Sanford’s “Shoot for the Cure” campaign to fund research for juvenile diabetes, Richburg said.

Sanford also works with the Sioux Falls Skyforce, the Wolves’ NBA D-League affiliate.

Many people in Sanford‘s service area attend Twins and Timberwolves games, Richburg noted. After merging with Fargo-based MeritCare Health System last year, Sanford now claims to be the nation’s largest, rural, not-for-profit health care system, with 30 hospitals and 111 clinics in eight states.

“Obviously, this is Twins country. This is Timberwolves country. We love both of those teams, so we don’t want to be in the middle of that controversy,” Richburg said.

“We did reach out to the Twins and wanted that to be a win-win for us and for them, and we were not successful in doing that, and so we find ourselves in a bit of a controversy,” he added.

While acknowledging that it’s “a substantial sign,” Richburg said the sign won’t cover the entire 2,800-square-foot façade and will be equal or smaller in size compared to other signs on the Target Center’s corner façades.

Richburg wouldn’t disclose terms of the contract, saying only that the sign’s cost is “a fraction” of Sanford’s marketing budget.

Sanford has recently amplified its presence with advertising in the Twin Cities market, but Richburg said Sanford has no plans to expand there.

“We’re not moving into that marketplace to compete. That’s not what this move is about,” he said. “It’s really about our relationship with the Timberwolves and the service area that the Timberwolves and the Twins relate to from their fan base.”

“Our goal is a positive outcome,” he said of the sign. “We love the space. We love the visibility. It makes good sense. It’s a good investment for us. But we don’t want this controversy, and I think … whoever put their face on that building, that there would have been this controversy.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528