SBJ/August 6-12, 2012/Franchises

Rowley becomes go-to guy for Suns turnaround

Newly minted Phoenix Suns President Jason Rowley is one of the NBA’s youngest top team executives, and the 41-year-old is looking to reverse the team’s recent slide both on and off the court.

It’s a tall order for Rowley who on July 26 was promoted to president of business operations from chief operating officer after Brad Casper resigned after less than a year on the job.

Getting to know …

Jason Rowley,
President, Phoenix Suns

Age: 41

Education: B.A. University of Arizona, 1994; law degree, University of Arizona, 2001.

Professional experience: Joined the Suns as general counsel and senior vice president in 2008, promoted to COO in 2011, named president of business operations in July 2012.
Corporate counsel, Van Tuyl Group 2006-08; attorney, Snell & Wilmer, 2001-06.

A former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst and merger and acquisitions attorney, Rowley moves to the corner office with a sizable list of challenges after the Suns saw their attendance plummet by 11 percent last season. The Suns also ended the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season without a sellout for the first time in years. In addition, Rowley must market the team in the post-Steve Nash era after the popular Suns star left this summer via a sign-and-trade deal with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Rowley, who joined the Suns as general counsel in 2008, also must inject some stability into the Suns front office after a steady diet of management changes over the past year. Rick Welts left as team president and took a job with the Golden State Warriors only to be replaced by Casper, who left after just nine months.

It’s not the first time he’s had the top job, as Rowley worked as Suns interim president after Welts left last September and before Casper was hired in October. That brief run gave him a glimpse of what it takes to lead the team’s business operations.

“With the labor dispute and then with the transition with Rick leaving and the transition with Brad, we have had some ups and downs, but I feel better than I have in a while about our prospects,” Rowley said. “We have gotten past those speed bumps and are excited to move forward.”

Despite the popular Nash leaving the team, the Suns this year have a season-ticket renewal rate of about 83 percent and have seen an uptick in new full-season-ticket sales, though Rowley would not disclose specific sales figures.

As chief operating officer, Rowley’s focus mainly was on the financial side of the business.

“When Jason came to the Suns, we knew we had hired a great lawyer, but what we didn’t know was that we had hired a great business person,” Welts said. “He’s a quick study on business issues and came to be our go-to guy on the full range of issues every NBA team faces.”

Now, Rowley must become more steeped in the team’s sales and marketing operation.

“I am excited to jump into the sales side and feel more comfortable,” he said. “We are the original [professional sports] franchise here in Phoenix and that gives us a certain standing.”

He’s focused on improving the Suns’ bottom line, which has suffered as the region has faced economic struggles and a major real estate downturn.

“Some of our traditional sponsors and premium buyers were from that market and they are starting to come back,” Rowley said. “We still have a lot of work to do, but we are heading in a positive direction. We need to make sure we are doing a good job telling our new story.”

Rowley may have joined the Suns in 2008 but he already was familiar with the franchise from working as an attorney for the Snell & Wilmer law firm in Phoenix when the firm represented Suns owner Robert Sarver in 2004 when he paid $401 million to buy the franchise. As a midlevel merger and acquisitions attorney, Rowley was assigned to the Suns deal, which proved to be a pivotal assignment that eventually led to a full-time job with the franchise.

“We got the deal done in 10 days and I got to know the team,” Rowley said. “Then I did [legal] cleanup work on and off for the team for a few years.”

After leaving the law firm for an in-house counsel job with a local automotive retailer, Rowley was hired by Sarver in 2008 as the team’s general counsel and senior vice president.

“I got to see all aspects of the business,” Rowley said. “I was involved in player contracts, working on the CBA and working on the business side. That served me well.”

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