MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Minnesota's major pro sports teams are good at attracting publicity by attaching their names to charitable causes -- such as the promo in which Minnesota Wild players Dwayne Roloson and Nick Schultz raced through a supermarket to see who could grab more groceries for food shelves.
From the Wild grocery event to the TwinsFest to the Vikings' Children's Fund, such events are constant fodder for news coverage, talk radio and game broadcasts.
The reality is that relatively little money goes from the teams' bank accounts to the charities. In Minnesota, none of the teams donates more than about $200,000 a year of its own money to charities, the Star Tribune reported Sunday.
Unlike many high-profile businesses that give a lot to charity, some teams say they don't have the profits to give, despite operating in a culture of multimillion-dollar salaries and TV contracts.
What teams do supply that most businesses can't is the celebrity status to leverage money from fans and corporations that yearn for relationships with teams and players. For instance, of the $603,000 raised for the Wild's 10,000 Rinks Foundation last year, about $550,000 came from fans and corporations.
"It sounds like there's been more sizzle than there's been steak," said Jon Pratt, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. "They're giving their reflected glory. Maybe that's the contribution, not the money."
Much of the teams' charitable money comes from special events. One such event burst into the news last winter when allegations of sexual assault and drunken driving surrounded the Vikings' Arctic Blast. Soon after, it was disclosed that the snowmobile event, like some other similar events, had poured more money into its own expenses than into charity.
There are events that do run efficiently by keeping costs down or admissions high -- the $250-per-ticket Taste of the Timberwolves, for example.
Pro sports charitable giving, a tax-deductible expense for teams, is all over the playing field. The Green Bay Packers said the team contributed more than $1.15 million of its own money last year to charities directly and to the Packers' foundation, while the Oakland Raiders said the team doesn't have a foundation and doesn't release giving information but donates "a lot of items" to groups.
Over the years, Minnesota teams have used star power to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for health, education and fitness causes, to help children and to fight drug abuse.
Even with all of these charitable activities and despite their high visibility, sports teams lag far behind Minnesota's heavy hitters in philanthropy. In 2001, the state's 50 largest grantmakers gave more than $2.3 million each in cash grants.
The largest recent reported one-year total among the major sports teams was about $600,000, by the Vikings. And most of that was from corporate sponsors and special events, not from team bank accounts, the newspaper reported.
This year the Twins value their charitable program at $2.2 million. But half of that consists of giving kids tickets for games that wouldn't sell out anyway. And those tickets are valued at the average retail price of all tickets.
Cash outlay for charity is expected to be about $125,000, supplemented by $50,000 from the Pohlad family foundation.
Some events have cost more than they have raised for charity. In earlier years, those have included TwinsFest, a Vikings Ride for Life and numerous events sponsored by players.
Registrations for the Arctic Blast, in three winters with little snow, dropped from about 3,000 to 932 in 2003.
Meanwhile, about 4,000 to 5,000 snowmobilers a year took part in the events but skipped paying the optional $25 registration for a chance to win a snowmobile or other prizes, said Steve Poppen, Vikings vice president of finance. The event lost $10,000 in 2001 and broke even in 2002.
Costs were cut, Poppen said, with expense money paying for a cheaper hotel, fewer amenities and travel for fewer people. The event bounced back to a $45,000-plus profit this year.
While the Blast is outreach to northern Minnesota fans, Poppen said, "the number one goal is to make money" for the Vikings Children's Fund, which benefits pediatric disease research at the University of Minnesota and other children's causes.
Another charity event, TwinsFest, drew 28,000 paying fans and 40 current or former players to the Metrodome this year, netting $241,000 for the Community Fund. The fund expects to pay out $485,000 to its programs this year.
Most of the Vikings' charitable contributions are raised not from special events, but through corporate sponsors and partners, including Northwest Airlines, Citibank and a cross-promotion with MCI WorldCom.
The Children's Fund reports that in 25 years it has raised more than $5.3 million for charity, with $3.5 million going to the university.
The $250-per-ticket Taste of the Timberwolves cleared $154,000 in March after expenses of $33,000, said Terrell Battle, team community relations manager.
At Target Center, Timberwolves players signed autographs, fans sampled donated food from a dozen Twin Cities restaurants, and kids shot baskets and played electronic games. "Our best commodity is our players, and this is our best opportunity to get them to mix with our fans," said spokesman Kent Wipf.
The Wild has adopted many fundraising activities, most with corporate sponsors' names attached. For $100, fans can get their name on a "wall of pucks"; $50 buys a scoreboard message.
A skills competition last January raised $25,000. Kids in hockey uniforms sell game programs to benefit their hockey groups.
The Wild's 10,000 Rinks Foundation gave to dozens of youth hockey groups last year, along with $50,000 to Children's Hospitals and Clinics for a Wild team room with computers and activities.
Instead of a costly golf tournament, the foundation began a bass-fishing tournament last year near Brainerd. "You don't have to rent the lake," said spokesman Bill Robertson.
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