20121031_ajl_as8_267

For those who have been to Phoenix Suns games this season it's no surprise to learn that, yes, attendance is down from last year.

The team lacks a supernova star to attract fans just on the chance to watch him play live. Michael Jordan once said that Steve Nash was one of the few NBA players he would pay to watch take the court. The Suns don't have anyone like Steve Nash.

Nor is the team in a market flush with disposable income, such as Los Angeles or New York. Even when the Knicks featured a terrible team for several years there in the 2000s, they still filled up 99+% of their seats every night. Same goes for Chicago. The Bulls were really bad for a long time between Jordan and Rose, yet their arena was always full.

A team without stars in a middling market is going to struggle. Phoenix has always been a middling market that couldn't keep up with the big boys ticket sales.

While they sold out the arena regularly during the golden Barkey/KJ/Chambers years and again during the early Nash/Stoudemire/Marion years in the mid-2000s, those sellouts never got the Suns higher than 10th in the league. In fact, they have always drawn more fans on the road than at home, including this year.

Moving into US Airways Center in 1992 (then called America West Arena) added thousands more seats than the old Madhouse on McDowell offered. Veteran's Memorial Coliseum, now host to state fair events and still ringed with orange seats, offered less than 15,000 seats. The pre-Barkley Suns never topped 15,000 fans per game.

At US Airways Center, the previous low-water mark in attendance occurred at the tail end of the Colangelos' reign, a mere decade after the brand spanking new arena opened. Over the three-season span from 2001-2004, the Suns averaged just over 16,300 fans per game. A far cry from 6 straight 19,023 sellout seasons in the Barkley years.

When Steve Nash returned and Robert Sarver's group bought the team, the good days returned. Attendance jumped back into 99+% capacity, though as stated above never better than 10th in the league. US Airways just doesn't have the capacity that other stadiums enjoy.

Great attendance lasted until last season, when the Suns failed to top the 16,000-per-game mark and is on an even worse pace this season.

The Suns business office is holding out hope for a better tomorrow.

"Though year-over-year attendance numbers are slightly lower at this point," said a Suns spokesperson. "It is still very early and we anticipate that those numbers will increase as we head further into the season, as is often the case."

Despite a poor record and a 9-game losing streak, the Valley is still stricken with Cardinal fever and will be until early January. The NFL is the elephant in the room. ABC doesn't even show NBA games until Christmas because they know that fans won't watch if there's an NFL game near it.

The Suns also cite the turnover in players affecting fan excitement levels.

"Between our fans continuing to become more familiar with our players," they continued. "And the NBA becoming more relevant after the New Year, we believe we will see a positive trend in attendance heading into the later part of our season."

True enough. Attendance will rise, as long as the Suns are in the playoff hunt. And heck, probably even if they aren't. The Suns had higher ticket sales during a 29-53 season in 2003-04 than they do today. America notices the NBA in the spring. That's just the way it's always been.

But that doesn't mean the Suns are doing well, by any stretch. You can surmise that all, or at least most, NBA markets are afflicted with the NFL virus. So, the Suns relative ranking with it's peers still means that fans are down on the Suns.

The Suns currently sit at 24th in the league in per-game attendance (which includes all sold season tickets) with 14,660 seats sold per night, or just under 80% of the arena. This relative position is down from 21st last season.

Again, I remind you dear readers that the Suns never ranked higher than 10th in peer rankings, even when selling every single ticket in the arena. Bigger markets have built bigger arenas.

It does not help that the Suns fail to offer any ticket-selling stars. That doesn't necessarily equate to ticket sales, though it doesn't hurt. The bottom 10 teams in ticket sales are also the bottom 10 teams in transcendant talent.

National TV games are a big attendance boost - fans must think they will be on TV? - even for small markets. But the networks don't want to show off a small market if the TV audience isn't engaged, and if there's no superstar to highlight. It's all about ratings, folks.

And offering big stars doesn't necessarily promise big attendance figures if the market is tiny. The Grizzlies, despite being one of the best teams in the West the last few years, only come in at 19th amongst their peers in attendance this season, and 20th last season - just squeaking ahead of the struggling Suns.

The Suns timed their "Satisfaction Guaranteed Night" with their only nationally-covered game to date - a Thursday-nighter against Dallas - to nearly fill the stadium. Attendance certainly passed the eye test. Nearly every seat appeared taken.

The Suns have five more nationally-covered games coming up this season, a far cry from the 25-33 national games a year the Suns enjoyed in recent seasons with Nash at the helm.

Will the Suns guarantee satisfaction at those games too?

"The Satisfaction Guaranteed Night was a big success," the Suns tell me. "And was based on that same idea of offering fans an opportunity to familiarize themselves with what is still a fairly new Suns team. We will continue to keep open the option of additional promotions, but have nothing planned at this time."

We'll see how the rest of the season pans out, but it's not starting well. No matter how you slice and dice it, attendance has never been this low in this arena.

The Suns cannot do anything about market size, but they can do something about the product they put on the court.

If the Suns keep winning, attendance will rise a bit. If the Suns are fighting for a playoff chance in March and April, the arena will be full.

But if they don't acquire some kind of superstar to replace what Steve Nash brought, and Charles Barkley before him, the Suns won't be selling out any more full seasons again.

There is an era of good feeling around the Valley these days, and while that era might be as temporary as the Phoenix Suns’ current four-game win streak, it’s safe to say both have...

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There is an era of good feeling around the Valley these days, and while that era might be as temporary as the Phoenix Suns’ current four-game win streak, it’s safe to say both have...

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PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns must have been so surprised to be leading by 29 points at the end of three quarters that they didn’t know what to do with such an advantage. The Charlotte Bobcats...

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Against the Charlotte Bobcats 30th-ranked defense, the Phoenix Suns looked like the juggernaut of old. They were willing, unselfish passers and Olympian shot makers. Threes were raining down from all over the court and dunks were thundering at the basket. Shannon Brown burst into flame with 15 points in the first 3 minutes of the third quarter. After that, the game was a rout. But not before the Bobcats fought back a bit to worry Gentry.

"It was a win," Gentry said, after the Bobcats cut the lead to 14 early in the fourth before the Suns stabilized. "I thought we started the game playing great. We have to do a better job of staying in the moment and finishing the job. I told you guys earlier, they are going to play. If it's a 48-minute game, they will play 48 minutes. I don't know if we understood that to the magnitude of what it really is."

After the second unit failed to show up in the fourth - allowing an 8-0 run within a couple minutes to cut the lead despite Gentry calling two timeouts to remind them to play hard - Gentry pulled the plug and re-inserted the starters. He was livid.

"We gave up three quick layups," he said. "I didn't think our rotations were great, and I thought we were leaking out rather than staying in and rebounding the basketball. I said [in the first two timeouts] let's play the right way.

"They didn't play the right way, so I made some substitutions."

This with a 15-point lead. The starting unit returned, and the Suns finished out the game cleanly. Was it a surprise to Goran Dragic that he returned in the fourth after ending the third with a 29-point lead?

"Yes," he said with a smile. All's good that ends good.

This was a good win for Suns fans. An early trip to bed for Bobcat fans.

To celebrate, the Suns have no practice tomorrow. Just a meeting and an outing at the bowling alley. To the winners go the spoils.

After Brown's 15-point burst, the game was a blowout. The Suns made shot shot after shot, with six three-pointers in the third quarter alone. They made their final 5 shots to end the third with a 29-point lead.

The Suns and Bobcats share a common theme - neither team has a top-end go-to talent. The Suns, though, have a big advantage in experience and the top-end talent of the Suns outshines the top-end talent of the Bobcats by a wide margin.

Charlotte is such a young team they make the Suns look veteran by comparison. They work harder but just can't finish or score or defend like they need to do to win games. Suns fans who want to go younger should watch the Bobcats and see what they their wish would get. Nice young talent but no idea how to win.

Shannon Brown just torched the Bobcats in the third as the Suns continued to pull away, turning an 18-point halftime lead to 27 in the opening minutes of the second half. Brown scored 15 points in only THREE minutes of play. Boom!

The Bobcats tried to make a Suns-ian comeback in the beginning of the fourth - never give up, never surrender! - but they just couldn't make the shots necessary to make it happen. But after a 8-0 run to start the fourth, Gentry decided he wasn't playing around and put all the starters back in to stem the tide.

That didn't quite work, the starters allowing a 11-5 run of their own, and the lead was suddenly down to 15. It's like the air had gone pffffffft right out of the Suns tires during this stretch. They got fat and happy with the big lead and let the other team back in. Ben Gordon went off for 1000 points of his own to match Brown's output in the third. In fact, it was Brown defending Gordon that whole time too.

"I know they've lost a lot of games," Gentry said before it started, "But I'm telling you they are a good basketball team. They are going to compete like crazy."

But the starters righted the ship and didn't let the game get any closer. They set a season-high with 17 three-point makes with Dragic (4/5), Telfair (3/4) and Brown (5/7) making 12 of 16 between them. Dudley was "only" 4 of 7.

Shows you the Suns have talent enough to execute these comebacks, and not every NBA team can say that.

The Bobcats came into the game on a 12-game losing streak but 7 of the first 8 losses were to winning teams before hitting the road. They scrap and claw the way Gentry can only wish the Suns would play.

The second quarter started well, with the bench unit putting up an 10-2 run before the first timeout. Tucker dove for a loose ball, slamming right into Gentry, who promptly dressed Tucker down right there on the court! Gentry was livid. But Gentry wasn't mad at Tucker for hitting him, he was made that Tucker dove for a ball last touched by a Bobcat.

The Bobcats started the quarter 0-8 from the field, their only points on two free throws. The Suns were playing good defense, combined with the Bobcats bad shooting. By mid-quarter, the Suns had a 17-point lead (50-33) and by the end it was a convincing 18-point lead.

The Suns outscored the Bobcats 39-19 in the second quarter, despite playing mostly their bench the whole time. But give it to Gentry - the Bobcats didn't stop playing hard despite their lack of talent.

The story of the first half? PJ Tucker out-Tuckered Gerald Henderson

The Suns started the game really tentative on offense but active on defense, forcing several turnovers and tough shots on the first few Charlotte possessions. But they couldn't put the ball in the hoop. Gortat missed his first five shots - all of them around the bucket - and the Bobcats scrapped to keep the game even.

Goran Dragic was the only one making shots early, going 5 for 6 from the field with the only miss being a wild hook on a broken play. He finished the first quarter with 11 points and 2 assists.

The Suns finally went on a nice 7-0 run toward the end of the quarter to take a 28-22 lead and force a Bobcats timeout. But the Bobcats wouldn't go down easy, scoring the last 5 points of a quarter to cut the lead to one. Byron dont-call-me-BJ Mullens finished the first quarter with 7 points and 5 rebounds somehow, after being outplayed I thought. Shows what I know.


Final - 12.19.2012 1 2 3 4 Total
Charlotte Bobcats 27 19 22 36 104
Phoenix Suns 28 36 33 24 121

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