EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is the first in a two-part series featuring the business side of the Northern Arizona Suns and their first year in Prescott Valley. We also update the bankruptcy status of the Prescott Valley Event Center, and the efforts being made to return hockey to Prescott Valley. Find part two in the Sunday, July 16, edition of The Daily Courier.
While the Northern Arizona Suns shine on the court in NBA Summer League cities like Orlando and Las Vegas, the business side of the club continues to work diligently in an effort to secure its future in Prescott Valley.
And with the Town of Prescott Valley and Prescott Valley Event Center LLC still immersed in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, the parties of interest aren’t out of the woods yet.
The original agreement between the parent-club Phoenix Suns and arena management consisted of a one-year deal with an opt-out clause for both sides.
But with a mutually beneficial relationship at stake, both sides were quick to strike a new deal, agreeing recently on a five-year contract to keep the club in Prescott Valley with two five-year options, according to new PVEC general manager Scott Norton.
“The Suns are very much behind our management of the arena,” said Norton, who works for Spectra, an arena management company. “We work with a lot of anchors, sports teams, basketball, hockey and minor league hockey. And they are supportive of that.”
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but are similar to any normal business primary tenant contract, Norton said.
The Suns currently pay rent at PVEC for office and locker room space, practice times and to host NBA Gatorade League games. The Suns keep all ticket proceeds and a percentage of concessions for game nights.
Chris Presson, president of the Northern Arizona Suns, said in a recent interview that the organization’s first year in Prescott Valley went “as expected,” but it wasn’t easy.
“The team was launched in May (2016). We still had to build a staff. By the time we finished, it was August,” Presson said.
By October last year, the league required the club to be in “full operation mode,” and with the team’s inaugural tipoff just four weeks away at that point, the staff did a “good job” preparing for the season, he said.
“You always have some unforeseen things. Small things, typically, that can fester into large things,” Presson said. “It’s no one’s fault … small things can slow down the operation as a whole.”
Although season and individual game ticket sales surpassed expectations for the inaugural 2016-2017 campaign, it wasn’t something the organization was necessarily focused on.
Presson’s main objective was more about establishing the product on the floor and building for the future.
“We knew once people attended games, they would be wowed,” Presson said, and with the Suns winning 10 of their first 11 games to begin their inaugural season, the league and its fans took notice.
According to minors.stats.com, the Suns finished 20th overall out of 22 teams in attendance with just a tick over 36,000 fans making their way through the turnstiles at PVEC last season, which equals about 1,442 per home game.
In comparison, the Texas Legends (Dallas Mavericks) had the highest attendance rate of any G League club at 5,885 per game, or 147,134 total fans.
“I don’t think there’s necessarily a threshold there,” Norton said about the Suns or arena management’s expectations on attendance in these first few seasons. “Obviously, they want to sell as many tickets as they can, but I think when people come and see them … once they see the product live and in person, then they are hooked on it.”
When asked if he felt the Suns are set up for long-term success in Prescott Valley, Presson said yes.
“Obviously the key to that is participation from the community in Prescott Valley,” Presson said. “That’s the same in any other town or sport. That’s what it takes across the board.”
As for the $2.10 licensing fee attached to each ticket sold for arena events, not just Suns’ home games, Norton said that amount was already in place beginning last season, meaning the popular $8 seats fans could purchase won’t suddenly be $10 come 2017-18.
The $2.10 fee is specifically for the use of arena parking lots, which are owned by the Fain Signature Group. A fee of $500 per day is charged for non-ticketed events.
Brian M. Bergner Jr. is associate sports editor and a columnist for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, Periscope and SoundCloud at @SportsWriter52, or on Facebook at @SportsAboveTheFold. Reach him at email@example.com or 928-445-3333, ext. 1106.