The Phoenix Suns have played host to a preseason game outdoors at the tennis stadium in Indian Wells, California for each of the past three years. What seemed to be a budding annual tradition, however, has come to an abrupt halt.
After successful attendance numbers, (a sellout of 16,236 in year one, followed by crowds close to and exceeding 15,000 in years two and three) as well as being one of only two preseason games broadcast nationally on TNT, the Suns have removed the Indian Wells game from their preseason schedule. And according to the team’s president and CEO Rick Welts, the lockout has nothing to do with that decision.
“I can’t affect what people would surmise, but it wouldn’t be correct,” Welts said of the lockout causing the discontinuation of the games. “We don’t want anyone reading into this, other than we wanted to take a year off.”
Welts was effusive with praise for the outdoor game, calling it a big success for the franchise and the league.
And he has not ruled out a return to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
“We remain enthusiastic about the concept and venue,” Welts said. “In my opinion, there is literally no venue that can stand toe-to-toe for the time of year the game had to be played.”
If it’s not the lockout, and if the outdoor venue has been a success the past three years, then why the change? Welts said that the event, along with another hosted by the Suns in Vancouver each preseason, was a drain on the team’s staff, and that the club simply wanted to take a year off to evaluate the situation.
After the weather severely affected the game the first time around — with temperatures dropping into the 60s and wind gusts up to 15 mph — the conditions were near perfect for each of the next two contests. In fact, Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said after last year’s game that it wasn’t much different than it would have been playing indoors.
“It was perfect, it was pretty much like playing inside of an arena, really,” Gentry said. “Once you start playing and it gets a little dark, you can’t really tell that you’re outside anyway. I think it’s a great venue and a great atmosphere, and we really love coming out here and playing.”
Despite Welts’ comments, it is possible that the lockout affected the Suns’ decision here. For a smaller community that isn’t used to supporting professional sports on this level more than once a year, it may have been too much to ask to go through the effort of selling tickets and sponsorships for an event that simply wasn’t very likely to take place.
If the Suns end up returning to Indian Wells next season, that possibility will seem even more likely to have been the case.