Does Arizona have more room for another professional sports team?
Even with discussions around new arenas, moving teams and other uncertainties, Arizona sport’s teams continue to give the impression that the state is a place where sports can thrive while also giving a boost to the communities that surround the teams.
“I think with the Cardinals we’ve seen that they’re supported, we’ve seen with the Diamondbacks and the Suns their support. And frankly with soccer, it’s been great to see the support out there. So, I do think that we actually have the fortune of actually seeing it happen here and there is support for it,” said Travis J. Leach, co-practice leader for the Ballard Spahr sports firm in Phoenix.
Leach said that the population base of Phoenix supports all the different professional sports franchises and that people do have an “appetite” for the different sports the city has to offer. There’s even the possibility of Arizona getting its own professional soccer team, which also leaves questions as to how another sports team may find a home for its games.
The Coyotes, Arizona’s NHL team, and the Cardinals, the NFL team, both currently play in Glendale.
The Coyotes haven’t seen as much success in Glendale, compared with the Cardinals. There have been several fights between the Coyotes and the City of Glendale, and the team has even pursued options for a new home. One such option, was plans for an arena in Tempe, which fell through.
The Diamondbacks and Suns are located more centrally in downtown Phoenix off the light rail, an important detail for Phoenix Inc. president and CEO David Krietor.
“People pour off the light rail for games,” said Krietor. “The Suns are important because they create a sense of community. Two generations of Phoenix natives have grown up with them.”
Krietor said 6 million people come downtown for events, whether it’s for sporting events or concerts. And 4.5 million people of that 6 million a year come into downtown Phoenix for events at Talking Stick Resort Arena and Chase Field where the Suns and Diamondbacks play.
“So, between the light rail, the street infrastructure, the parking, the access to the freeways, you’ve just got such a strong situation,” said Krietor about the stadium, arena and sports teams downtown.
There has been some controversy around these venues, though. Recently, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Maricopa County have been in a fight over who is responsible for paying for required maintenance at Chase Field, where the MLB team plays. Some are wondering just where the Diamondbacks may go if the Diamondbacks choose to leave Chase Field.
And then, there’s the Talking Stick Resort Arena where the Phoenix Suns and Mercury play. The arena was first built in 1992. For the past couple of years, there has been talk about building a new arena for the teams, or renovating the arena.
There has also been talk of combining an arena for the Suns and the Coyotes, Leach did bring up the concerns for new, remodeled or moving arenas and stadiums.
“The stadium is always an issue in terms of where does the team play,” Leach said. “Is a stadium being built from the ground up, or is there a stadium in place? And if the stadium is being built from the ground up, is it going to be publicly financed or privately financed?”
“However, you look at certain opportunities. There is interest in publicly financed facilities,” Leach said.
And now, with the possibility of the Phoenix area getting a professional soccer team, there’s more talk about a potential new arena for a major sports team here.
Phoenix Rising is currently a United Soccer League team, one step below the MLS ranking. The team plays in Scottsdale, but according to Krietor, it would be looking at possible other locations to make their official home if they were to become an MLS team.
Leach said that as a team looking to possibly move to the professional stage, they have always looked at a privately financed stadium to make their home, something he also said looks good to the supporters of the team.
“You kind of look at what the Phoenix Rising has done and you’re now playing over the hottest, least desirable time to be in Phoenix and they have done really, really well from a fan support stand point in their first year. So, I think that you look at that and you look at the sustainability and I think that provides a lot of support for that (additional) team,” Leach said.
Phoenix Rising becoming an MLS team would make for five professional sports teams in Phoenix and the Valley.
Krietor said about Phoenix rising, “I think there is definitely an audience for that.”
Beyond just watching sports, Krietor said there are 180 restaurants, bars and live music venues in downtown that are within walking distance of the arena and stadiums in Downtown Phoenix.
“A lot of those restaurants and bars are small businesses. They’re people that have invested their lives in these businesses. They employ people and driving business into their places is really helpful to them,” said Krietor.
Leach believes that when people want to see sports games, they’re in downtown or central Phoenix.
“So, you put out on the street all of these sports fans walking around as pedestrians, interacting with these small businesses, thousands of conventioneers out on the streets with their name badges see the vibrancy and you throw in 12 or 13 thousand ASU students and all of a sudden you have an urban space that you’ve never had before and I do think a lot of that started with the arena and the baseball stadium,” Krietor said.
Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story attributed the final quote to Travis J. Leach, when it was David Krietor who said it. The story has been corrected.