No. 13 Best City to Be a Sports Fan: PhoenixSeptember 11, 2014
No. 13 Best City to Be a Sports Fan: Phoenix
How much does where you live matter as a sports fan? The short answer: It depends.
If you're an Alabama football fan, there's no better place to live than Tuscaloosa. If you're a Red Sox fan, there's no worse place to live than New York City.
But what if you were a free agent, so to speak? What if you loved sports but didn't have an affiliation to any team? You're moving to a new city. What city would have the most to offer you as a sports fan? What city would give you the best overall experience?
That is what we're here to find out. We took 25 of the best writers from Bleacher Report and beyond to objectively look at their cities and come up with a ranking. To get a better understanding of the categories and grading criteria, click here.
Phoenix comes in at No. 13. Let's find out why.
Number of Teams/Events: 19/20
In terms of having a wide array of sports to follow, few cities can trump what Phoenix has to offer. All four major sports are covered: NBA (Phoenix Suns), NFL (Arizona Cardinals), MLB (Arizona Diamondbacks) and NHL (Phoenix Coyotes).
There’s also the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA, Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League and a variety of teams representing the Arizona State University Sun Devils (which has churned out elite athletes like Terrell Suggs, James Harden and Dustin Pedroia, among others).
If mainstream sports don’t strike your fancy, Phoenix also offers NASCAR races, Monster Jam and drag racing at Wild Horse Motorsports Park (previously known as Firebird International Raceway).
And it can’t be forgotten that the 2015 Super Bowl will be hosted by the city of Glendale. Further, MLB spring training offers more baseball than your average city, and the PGA Tour comes to town for the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Unless you're searching for an MLS team or a plethora of local colleges, you're in luck.
Success of Teams in Last 5 Years: 11/20
If there’s anything Phoenix sports fans have become accustomed to throughout the decades, it’s the agony of defeat. In the words of Phoenix Suns legendary broadcaster Al McCoy: "Heartbreak Hotel."
The last five years haven't been the Suns’ best span. Although the 2009-10 team—led by two-time MVP Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire—reached the Western Conference Finals under head coach Alvin Gentry, the ensuing four seasons were less than stellar.
From 2010-11 through 2013-14, Phoenix failed to reach the playoffs both with and without Nash. The team is turning things around under head coach Jeff Hornacek and general manager Ryan McDonough, but fans are still pining for the run-and-gun Suns teams of the mid-2000s under Mike D'Antoni.
The "last five years" cutoff is a killer for the Arizona Cardinals, as they made an unexpected Super Bowl run in 2008 thanks to the exploits of quarterback Kurt Warner and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Since that time? Just one postseason appearance.
Playing in the same division as juggernauts like the San Francisco 49ers and Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks hasn't helped matters.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have spent much of the 2014 season near the bottom of the National League West standings with the Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres. Assuming they finish out the second half of 2014 in that position, they’ll have more last-place finishes in the last five years (two) than playoff appearances (one). If you exclude the 2014 season, which is still in progress, that adds 2009's last-place finish to the fold.
The Arizona Coyotes—formerly known as the Phoenix Coyotes—have had a roller coaster five years under coach Dave Tippett. Back-to-back appearances in the NHL Conference Quarterfinals predated a Conference Finals run in 2011-12. In two campaigns since, the Coyotes have missed out on postseason play despite high expectations.
Of the four major sports, the team that spends the majority of its time on ice has been best in the desert over the past half-decade based purely on playoff appearances.
Success during the past five years for those aforementioned teams certainly hasn’t been great.
With that said, the Phoenix Mercury are in the midst of an incredibly successful year. Don’t be surprised if new head coach Sandy Brondello leads the roster to something special.
Meanwhile, the Arizona Rattlers have dominated the AFL in recent years. They’ve reached the ArenaBowl four consecutive times dating back to 2011. They've won three straight titles from 2012 through 2014..
At least some Phoenix-area teams have had success.
Fans in Phoenix aren’t conditioned to expect championships. Regardless, attending games in person is a luxury thanks to beautiful stadiums housing local teams.
US Airways Center (formerly known as America West Arena) is home to the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury. Although it was opened in 1992, renovations have kept the venue looking sleek inside and out.
Chase Field (formerly known as Bank One Ballpark) is one of the newest stadiums in baseball. It was opened in 1998 and sits just a hop, skip and jump away from US Airways Center.
The home of the Diamondbacks comes complete with a retractable roof and giant "windows" in center field that can be opened and closed depending on the weather. Oh, and there’s a swimming pool in right-center. It’s hard to beat the appeal of Chase Field in terms of a modern baseball-going experience.
The other sports neighbors—Cardinals and Coyotes—compete in University of Phoenix Stadium (opened in 2006) and Jobing.com Arena (opened in 2003), respectively. Since both stadiums reside in Glendale, rather than downtown Phoenix, fans commuting from the Scottsdale area are looking at an approximately 30-minute trip. It's a slightly longer drive for those who live in Tempe.
Once you actually get to the stadium, though, you won’t be bothered by the commute. Getting there is the true prize, because these are two of the newest stadiums in their respective sports.
Fan Passion: 6/10
Phoenix fans are loyal to a fault, supporting teams that (for the most part) haven’t experienced long stretches of success or championship glory.
Among the Suns, Cardinals, Coyotes and Diamondbacks, Phoenix has been treated to just one championship (when the D-backs beat the New York Yankees on a Luis Gonzalez blooper in 2001).
Aside from that...nothing.
Speaking strictly in terms of attendance percentage, Phoenix fans can't lay claim to being among the best.
It’s a rarity to peruse the Phoenix area without seeing a Cardinals license plate, flag or jersey at one point or another. However, the team's state-of-the-art stadium doesn’t come close to matching other NFL teams in terms of average attendance (mainly because it has fewer seats). Still, there will be swaths of the opposing team's fan base in University of Phoenix Stadium on a game to game basis.
Suns fans haven’t been pleased with the Robert Sarver era. He bought the team in 2004 from legendary owner Jerry Colangelo, so he had big shoes to fill. Sarver’s notorious reputation as a cheapskate—a moniker hammered home by well-known NBA analyst Bill Simmons—hasn’t helped the Suns’ image.
Still, generations of basketball fanatics remain faithful. Whether they remember the days of Connie Hawkins, Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson or the most recent run of success with Nash, Phoenix has a storied history.
But, again, attendance hasn’t been ideal. Phoenix finished 21st in attendance percentage over the past two seasons.
The Coyotes have been toiling at or near the bottom of the league in attendance for many years—which led to bankruptcy, an eventual sale (after being operated by the NHL for four seasons) and a name change.
The Diamondbacks’ attendance has also suffered. Chase Field filled only 54.2 percent of its seats throughout 2013. Only Miami, Houston, Seattle and Cleveland drew fewer fans in terms of stadium percentage, according to ESPN.
Phoenix fans undoubtedly love their teams, but they’re also smart enough to know they shouldn’t be spending their hard-earned cash to see a mediocre product.
As a result, there’s some give and take.
General Fan Experience: 12/15
The stadiums in Phoenix carry significant weight in terms of overall appeal contributing to fan experience. Still, new buildings aren’t the only draw.
For example, commuting from Tempe to downtown Phoenix is a breeze thanks to the (relatively new) light rail system. By riding the light rail instead of driving themselves, fans can beat traffic, avoid paying for parking and even chat with other Diamondbacks or Suns fans prior to the event.
When you land, head over to Coach’s Corner Grill or Game Seven Grill near Chase Field for some grub. If you’re of age, both are good options to grab a beer or two before heading into the stadium. (Although you can find cheap beers inside if you know where to look.)
US Airways Center, meanwhile, sits directly across from a Hard Rock Cafe, which is great from a convenience standpoint. Other restaurant options include The Arrogant Butcher and Majerle’s Sports Grill (the namesake of former Phoenix Sun Dan Majerle).
If you’re in Glendale to take in a football or hockey game, the options at Westgate Entertainment District are within walking distance of each. Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville and Yard House are just two of the options available to fans, but make sure and get seated early to avoid the pregame rush.
Downtown Phoenix has a seedier feel when pitted against Glendale’s new digs. Even so, it has continued to get its act together since the light rail injected some life into that area of the city.
The stadiums in which fans will actually be watching games have the greatest appeal, but each sports venue has plenty to offer.
If attendance percentages are any indication, the majority of fans in the Phoenix area are opting to watch games on television or read up on the latest happenings via newspaper or Internet rather than watching the game in person.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, because media personalities across the four major sports are worth listening to, and games are rarely (if ever) blacked out.
The Diamondbacks have former ESPN anchor Steve Berthiaume guiding play-by-play duties next to Bob Brenly—who steered the D-backs to their only World Series title during his first season as manager. Both guys are a joy to listen to, even though the on-field product hasn’t won many games or played a compelling brand of baseball.
Radio listeners will forever rave about Al McCoy, the legendary broadcast voice of the Phoenix Suns. He’s not afraid to voice his opinion about lackluster officiating with an "Ohhhhh brother!" Another catchphrase of McCoy’s is "Shazam!" when Suns players drain three-point shots, and it truly never gets old.
For the younger crop of fans, though, following Suns beat writer Greg Esposito on Twitter is a must. A longtime Suns fan, Espo genuinely cares about the local basketball team. He even has a Jimmy Kimmel/Matt Damon-esque "feud" with Suns broadcaster and NBA legend Eddie Johnson. The back-and-forth between those two is great.
The Suns' postgame show featuring Tom Leander and Tom Chambers is always worth sticking around for after a game ends as well.
On the more serious side, AZCentral.com’s Paul Coro does a brilliant job covering the Suns throughout the 82-game grind.
Hall of Famer Ann Meyers Drysdale, who broadcasts both the Suns and Mercury, brings a lifetime of basketball experience to the fold.
That's without mentioning Matt McConnell, who announces play-by-play for the Coyotes. He and Tyson Nash provide knowledgeable insight regarding the Desert Dogs.
As for the Cardinals, NBC sportscaster Bruce Cooper has fans covered on that front.
The local media team is rock-solid across the board in Phoenix.
Star Power: 6/10
Goran Dragic was the only player in the NBA who scored at least 20 points per game while also shooting at least 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range during the 2013-14 season. Not even 2013-14 league MVP Kevin Durant or four-time MVP LeBron James posted those numbers.
The Slovenian point guard leads a fast-paced Phoenix offense that is truly a joy to watch.
The Diamondbacks, despite floundering near the bottom of the rankings, feature a legitimate MVP candidate in first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. In 2013, Goldy bombed 36 homers, knocked in 125 runs and added 36 doubles. Few players in the majors are as prolific with a bat in their hands.
Larry Fitzgerald continues to make outstanding catches look routine for the Cardinals. His teammate, Patrick Peterson, has carved a niche as one of the best young defensive backs in the NFL.
The Coyotes, meanwhile, feature a bona fide icon in captain Shane Doan. He’s been with the franchise since 1995-96 (when the organization was still the Winnipeg Jets).
Of course, perhaps no team in the desert features as much star power as the Mercury. Five-time WNBA scoring champion Diana Taurasi was nicknamed the "#LadyMamba" by future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant via Twitter. Fellow All-Star Brittney Griner out of Baylor, who stands 6'8", is a shot-blocking fiend who isn’t opposed to dunking on opponents.
Phoenix doesn’t have a ton of star power, but the stars it does have are among the elite when compared to their peers.
Since becoming an NBA franchise way back in 1968-69, the Suns have compiled the fourth-best winning percentage of any organization in the sport (behind the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics).
Unfortunately for the Phoenix faithful, the Suns have only reached the NBA Finals twice during that stretch (in 1976 and 1993). They’re still striving to win their first championship.
The Cards were a laughingstock before Larry Fitzgerald and Kurt Warner gave the franchise some much-needed relevance. But since moving to Arizona from St. Louis in 1988, the Cardinals have reached the playoffs a measly three times. Frankly, their only tradition has been disappointing fans with losing seasons.
Loyal Coyotes followers will no doubt remember the Kachina-style Coyote logo of old, with green, red and black coloring all mixed into a unique finished product. Those jerseys were worn by honored greats like Keith Tkachuk, Jeremy Roenick and Teppo Numminen, providing a unique blend of tradition and history.
Even since switching to the new-look red and white jerseys, though, the Coyotes are trying to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in team history.
That leaves the Diamondbacks, a team that has only been in existence since 1998. The 2001 roster won the World Series thanks to a two-headed pitching monster of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, but management hasn’t been able to keep a winning tradition alive.
The Arizona Rattlers and Phoenix Mercury provide a saving grace of sorts. The Rattlers have won five ArenaBowl titles dating back to 1994. The Mercury, meanwhile, won WNBA championships in 2007 and 2009.
The history/tradition category in Phoenix is hindered due to a lack of championship success and the fact that the D-backs haven’t been around for very long.
The Suns’ winning ways and seven titles combined between the Diamondbacks, Mercury and Rattlers helps, but a big tradition in Phoenix has been hoping next year will be better.
Final Tally: 75/100
Phoenix isn’t on the level of cities like Los Angeles or Boston in terms of championship glory.
Since the four major sports in Arizona have brought the city just one championship, Phoenix fans tend to be a humble and grounded bunch.
They understand how difficult it is for teams to win on the highest stage and sustain that level of success for long periods. When titles start to become expected as the norm, it breeds a stance of arrogance toward other sports lovers. Phoenix is devoid of that by default.
All four major teams struggle to draw high totals of fans into the picturesque stadiums—none more so than the Coyotes. That fact doesn't work in Phoenix's favor, but each team still has a loyal niche of diehard followers.
Being a sports fan in the Phoenix area is often met with disappointment, but who doesn't love a good underdog?