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Suns fan loyalty, like loyalty to sports in general, dipped over this past year

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One look into how the pandemic affected peoples’ interest in sports

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NBA: Utah Jazz at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Success has not been a word associated with the Phoenix Suns franchise for quite some time. Truthfully, I am looking forward to not having to write the words “in a decade” or “since 2010” ever again. James Jones has effectively changed the narrative and reset the course of the franchise. The 2020-21 Phoenix Suns are playoff bound and their is excitement bubbling throughout Phoenix.

Right?

It is hard to judge exactly how the casual fan views the Suns and their recent success because, well, I’m in the eye of the Suns hurricane. I watch every game, host a podcast immediately after, and write for Bright Side of the Sun with my observations. I am constantly analyzing and reviewing, absorbing and critiquing.

The majority of my Suns’ based conversations are with fans who consume the product as I do. My Twitter interactions are with those who watch right along with me.

It feels as if the fanbase is engaged and excited. When you walk into a Just Sports in the Greater Phoenix Area, it’s no longer Arizona Cardinals gear at the front table. I no longer have to ask the cashier where to find the Suns shirts, only to discover they are on one rack in the back of the store. There are more than just two hat options to choose from.

Certainly this means that the interest in the Phoenix Suns is rising.

I love NBA basketball. I am a fanatic. During the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020, I was devastated. Our world was in turmoil, people were losing their lives, and — as stupid as it sounds given the gravity of what was occurring globally — we were without sports. The moment the NBA announced in July that the Orlando Bubble was to occur, I firmly strapped into my seat and went along for the ride.

Again, I am the exception.

Although the current state of Suns basketball appears to be turning a corner, the pandemic did not bode well for the Suns or the NBA as an entity. Per Tommy Breen from Forbes, the 2020 NBA Playoffs TV ratings were down by 37% compared to 2019.

Us loyalists were glued to every minute of the Suns’ 8-0 run in the Orlando Bubble. It appears that we were the exception, not the rule.


TickPick, an online marketplace for events tickets that allows users to bid on tickets, recently published data following a survey of 1,000 Americans and asked them to answer questions about their experiences and opinions on sports entertainment during the pandemic.

Based on the results of their study, the Phoenix Suns have the #4 least loyal fanbase during the pandemic. 26.4% of the fanbase (based on TickPick’s data) stopped supporting the team during the pandemic.

Source: TickPick.com

A turbulent world last year gave little attention to the National Basketball Association. When the product did choose to return, cities were burning and the fabric of American society was enraged following the death of George Floyd. NBA players took part in social justice protests and chose to use their platform to make their thoughts and ideas known.

With Black Lives Matter written on the hardwood, they resumed the 2019-20 season. Some players knelt during the national anthem and, due to players exercising their right to peacefully protest, a specific sect of the fanbase did not return.

This is not the only reason for the absence of attention to the NBA, as Jane McManus, Director of Marist College Center for Sports Communication, noted in the Forbes piece. “The coronavirus is surging again, infecting over 50,000 Americans a day, and more than 215,000 people have died from the virus. What if sports just aren’t a priority for people in the same way? What if we just don’t have the bandwidth for all of this? It might just be a time where people have less room for a celebratory distraction in their lives.”


Personally, I am shocked by the end metric of 26.4% that TickPick generated. Over a quarter of our fanbase dipped during the pandemic? This can’t be true, can it? But again, I view our fanbase through a different lens than most.

What I will note is that the data collected by TickPick is an extremely small sample size. 1,000 people, not all of which are Suns fans, cannot accurately depict what the state of the franchise has been since the pandemic began. Per Statisa, the Suns are middle of the pack (17th) relative to their 2021 value among NBA franchises.

4 of the top 5 teams listed who retained fan loyalty (Bulls, Knicks, Lakers, and Mavericks) are in the top 9 most valuable franchises. The Grizzlies, who rank last on fan retention, are also the least valuable franchise in the NBA.

If I had a room full of 1,000 people, how many would be, or were at one time, Suns fans? It is from this smaller group that I would have to gather data and . I am not sure of the method used to create this data, but from the outside looking in, it feels just a tad bit off.

The NBA and her fanbases weren’t the only sports affected by the decline in viewership. Per Sports Media Watch:

Sports Media Watch also stated that, “The decline in sports ratings comes amidst a broader decline in television viewing overall; an average of 76.2 million viewers were watching primetime television on the first five nights of the Finals, nearly eight million fewer than during last year’s Finals (83.8M).”


But what if it is true? What if Suns fans are leaving? What does that mean for the organization and the sport as a whole? How will they generate new revenue streams and —

Oh, hello Fan Duel Sports Book! How are you doing? Let me put $20 on the Deandre Ayton over 12.5 rebound line please...