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Phoenix Suns still profitable, despite losing; in other news, the world is round

Owners are in this NBA game to make money. Most of them do just that. Jerry Colangelo made a mint with the Phoenix Suns and now Robert Sarver is doing the same, but not as much as Colangelo.


In a January 2013 report by the well-respected Forbes magazine, the Phoenix Suns made the 12th most profit in the NBA during Nash's last year in the Valley of the Sun at $13 million. The Suns tied with Dallas, and were one of 22 teams that made money that season.

There are no reports out yet for this past year's debacle, but we all know the gate receipts and merchandise sales went way, way down. At the beginning of the year, most independent sports jersey retailers carried no Suns jerseys because there wasn't a "face of the franchise". I don't know if that changed at any point last season.

Still, expect Robert Sarver and his partners (which continue to include Steve Kerr) to have turned some kind of operating profit during the 2012-13.

Taking a closer look at profit, though, shows a few warts in these reports. Per Forbes, the profit number is "operating income", which is defined as "Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization." So it's not like Sarver wrote himself a $13 million check and stuck it in his pocket. But still, it's apples to apples and the Suns are mid-pack with the rest of the league.

The Man

I can guess that some readers are bristling right now, itching to jump into the comments to lambast Robert Sarver for being a money hungry b$*ch while yearning for the days of the benevolent Jerry Colangelo.

Before you do that, let's put this into perspective. Colangelo made more money as Suns owner, even during the down years, than Sarver ever has.

Very successful businessmen have enough money and energy to venture into side businesses that still make a boatload of money. Some get into shady, backroom deals while others invest in upfront businesses. All are profit-making ventures, most are rooted in entertainment.

NBA owners are in that latter group. They got rich doing something else, and now own NBA franchises with the hope of childhood wonder and giddy thrills but live in the reality that they need to turn a profit. NBA owners are not philanthropists. They are a loose interpretation of "The Man".

"The Man" is a slang phrase that may refer to the government or to some other authority in a position of power. In addition to this derogatory connotation, it may also serve as a term of respect and praise.

Past vs. Present

Jerry Colangelo was "The Man" for the Phoenix Suns franchise whose effusive personality cast him in a positive light. Robert Sarver is now the "The Man" for the Phoenix Suns whose prickly uncomfortable money-mongering socially-challenged personality casts him in a negative light.

But make no mistake. Both Colangelo and Sarver have made a boatload of money during their tenure as owners of the Phoenix Suns franchise.

Jerry Colangelo put together a team of investors to buy the Phoenix Suns at their lowest point for $44.5 million in 1987. He sold it 17 years later for $401 million. That's a profit of nearly $360 million. As part of the sale, Colangelo got $2 million per year for another 5 years to take on an advisory role.

But that is not all. Oh no, that is not all.

A report in 2009 says the Suns made the league's third most profit at $287 million over a 10 year period from 1998-2008, more than half of which were during Colangelo's tenure. In none of those last Colangelo years were the Suns a contender. For the math-challenged, that's about $28.7 million per year profit from 1998-2008.

Add up the profits, the ten-fold gain in franchise value and the continuing contract post-sale and you've got a very rich former owner of the Phoenix Suns. We all loved him, for sure. But let's not forget he made a lot of money on us while we loved him.

Now you're bristling to lambast the author for writing blasphemy against the former owner and most loved Valley sports icon in history. Believe me when I say I loved the Colangelo tenure, and that I believe he earned every penny he made. Jerry Colangelo is rich for good reason. He made the Suns the franchise they are. No bones about it.

The Phoenix Suns current managing partner, Robert Sarver, has done okay as well. In eight years as owner (as of end of season 2012), the Suns franchise had gained $73 million in value since he purchased the team. He will have to pick up a lot of steam to match Colangelo's $360 million over 17 years, but it's still a healthy gain.

As far as profits are concerned, the Suns have made money each year.


You have to read this chart from RIGHT to LEFT. That's just the way Forbes rendered the charts.

The worst worst years are the most recent two, which look to be about $13 million per season. A far cry from the heyday of the Suns as described above.

Reading right to left, you can see that Sarver made a killing in his first year of ownership. The 2004-05 season was his lowest payroll (before Amare's first max extension) until recently while the Suns grabbed the headlines all season long with their free flowing offense.

Just to the right of that magical 2005 profit, you can see the profit margins of Colangelo's last two as owner. The Suns were 44-38 and 29-53 in those two years.


Where am I going with this, you ask?

Forbes just came out with money numbers for the top 50 Sports franchises, most of which are NFL football teams. Only three NBA teams made the Top 50 (New York, LA and Chicago).

This got me and some others thinking about where the Suns rank, which led me to the Suns page on This article points out the Suns made the most profit of all the Valley franchises.

So I wanted to dig deeper, to put these numbers into perspective before fans read these articles without knowing the context.

Yes, the Suns make money.

No, it's not as much money as when they're winners (according to

And no, the latest NBA numbers are not inclusive of the Suns worst season in memory. As far as I can tell.

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