The Phoenix Suns, enjoying one of their most successful regular seasons in their history, have decided to immediately cap season ticket sales at 12,100 in the 17,100-seat Footprint Center, the club told Sportico.
The remaining 5,000 seats will be utilized for single-game sales and community programs involving players, partners and sponsors. As of Thursday, 162 PayPal Sixthman memberships in the upper bowl remain for this season. When those are sold, fans can put their names on a waiting list, already established for sold-out floor seats and other lower bowl locations, for future seasons.
It’s the first time in 10 seasons the Suns have capped season sales.
Their popularity has increased locally after last season’s six-game loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals and despite an investigation by the NBA into the team and owner Robert Sarver for allegedly cultivating an unwholesome and misogynistic environment in the club’s business operations.
“Obviously that’s something we’re working through with the NBA,” said Jason Rowley, the club’s president, in a phone interview. “We’re looking forward to the end result so we can obviously put it behind us and move forward. But from the fan’s perspective, everybody appreciates the fact that you can’t be a dysfunctional organization and achieve the results we’ve achieved. Those two lines of thinking just don’t add up.”
The Suns have gone from 29th in the NBA in average home attendance at 15,293 during the 2018-19 season, the last played at full capacity for all 41 home games, to 19th, with 16,038 through 20 home games this season.
The Suns, like many pro franchises, are just starting to recover operating losses that date back even before the coronavirus shut down the NBA for four months on March 11, 2020.
“Not having a full arena was a tough business model for us,” said Rowley, who declined to put a figure on the losses. “Obviously, going deep into the playoffs gave us a chance to recover some of those dollars. … We found a way to make it through, and now we’re focused on the future.”
It should be noted that based on arena capacity, which marginally shrank during a recent $230 million renovation, the highest the Suns could reach in average attendance is 13th. Right now, they are selling at 94% capacity.
This season has boasted a club-record 18-game winning streak, including an undefeated November. The Suns survived seven games without star guard Devin Booker, who was out with a left hamstring strain, and went 5-2 during that period. More recently, they have played through shortages of players who tested positive for COVID-19, just like many teams in the league.
“It’s ever-evolving,” general manager James Jones said. “These guys are returning to the team. COVID is something we’re going to have to deal with. For us, it’s just another factor, another challenge we have to overcome.”
The Suns have been in a five-year rebuilding program on the court and in their business operations, including improvements to the 30-year-old arena in downtown Phoenix and a $50 million practice center northeast of downtown.
The Suns won only 19 games as recently as the 2018-19 season, when season sales and interest in the team had reached all-time lows. Only 25% of the 627,023 who attended home games then were season ticket members, as opposed to 71% now. Sarver brought in Jones, who hired Monty Williams as head coach. Sarver said in an interview last year that basketball operations needed a culture change after nine consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs.
Jones, inheriting young players like Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges, said the organization needed a morale transplant.
“They just needed direction, guidance, consistency and professionalism,” Jones said. “That’s what they asked for: Give us a really good coach, get us some facilities, give us all of the tools to help us grow as players, and we’ll give you all of our best efforts. And they’ve done that.”
The Suns missed the playoffs for the 10th consecutive time during that 2019-20 season but went 8-0 in the Orlando bubble as fan interest began to percolate.
The clamor for season tickets increased exponentially as the Suns finished last season with a second-best 51-21 record, a game behind the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference. Their playoff run through the Lakers, Nuggets and Clippers sent them into the Finals for the third time and first since 1993. The Suns won their first two games over the Bucks at home, in front of raucous sold-out crowds, before hitting a wall named Giannis Antetokounmpo, who won the MVP as Milwaukee swept the final four games of the series.
The excitement carried over into the current season. At 29-8 the Suns again have the league’s second-best record, a half-game behind the Golden State Warriors. The point of capping season sales is two-fold, Rowley said. First, the Suns want to be able to serve their current season member base.
“Secondly, this is a community asset,” Rowley said. “So, you want to make sure the community around you thoroughly enjoys the experience. You don’t want to get to the point where you have so many season ticket members the rest of the community is locked out. We just wanted to make sure that opportunity is there for everybody to come out and see a few games. This will help accomplish that.”
(This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Devin Booker’s name.)