US Airways Center goes by many nicknames, but the one with the best atmosphere may be “The Snakepit."
USAC is currently the home to three professional franchises: The NBA’s Phoenix Suns, the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, and the Arena Football League’s Arizona Rattlers, as well as being the former home of the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes. The Rattlers are the most prolific of these franchises, having won four AFL Championships (1994, 1997, 2012 and 2013). Of course the Suns have never won an NBA Championship, and the Mercury have won two WNBA championships.
US Airways opened in 1992, the same year that the Rattlers were founded as an expansion team in the AFL. Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Danny White became the head coach, and remained the head coach through the 2004 season, but was let go after losing three consecutive ArenaBowls. In 2013, they again have the opportunity to reach three straight championship games after losing in 2011 to the Jacksonville Sharks, and defeating the Philadelphia Soul in 2012.
While the Rattlers may be the least promoted of the three tenants of USAC, the fan experience is arguably the best in the building.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
US Airways Center has become known as a great food place as far as an NBA arena is concerned. But for Rattlers games, not everything is open, and food items are extremely expensive.
The lower level has most concession stands open, including general concessions that offer the "Bargain Menu", which has hot dogs, popcorn and sodas available for $1.50. Regular sized hot dogs are $3, nachos, popcorn and soda cost right around $5, and beers are up over $10 depending on what you want.
The lower level also has Streets of New York Pizza, where you can get pizza or pasta. Also open are a couple of Asian food stands, sandwich carts, and a couple other dessert carts.
The upper level only has the general concession stands open, so if you want to get something more than a hot dog and soda, you have to trek down to the lower concourse for more variety. But they do have the bargain menu, and chances are that if you're sitting in the upper level for a Rattlers game, you'll want to be spending less money anyway.
Lines at the stands aren't too much of an issue, even at halftime, because USAC is not even half-full during Rattlers games. No outside food and drink are allowed in. USAC is a Coca-Cola facility.
Arena Football has a kind of intensity and pace that you'll never find at a basketball game and it shows up in all aspects of the experience during a game.
The way most people enter the arena is through the main plaza on the northwest side. That lobby area has escalators to all of the levels all in one place, as well as championship banners for the Rattlers and the Mercury, and the main team shop. With the entrances to every level in one place, it makes concourse flow very easy and fast, and it is extremely clear where you are supposed to go depending on where your seat is.
The seats themselves are pretty comfortable. All the chairs in USAC are now padded, and all have cup holders. The main seating issue for AFL games is the obstructed view seats. In the upper level corners and ends, parts of the field aren't visible, mainly the edges of the endzones and part of the field itself. These seats are drastically cheaper than any of the other seats in the arena, and when buying tickets, the Rattlers make it very clear that they are an obstructed view. The screens on the main scoreboard show live game action, so if the ball does go to a place you can't see, there's always the option of looking up at the screen. Definitely not ideal, but at least it's an option.
Arena Football's known for how close the seats are to the field, literally right on the playing surface. In fact, there was a play during the game I was at where a fan batted down a ball that would have been caught by a San Jose player. The rule is that the down is replayed. Also, if a ball does go into the stands, you get to keep the ball. With this, it's ideal to sit in the lower level, and along the sidelines, not in the endzones. The upper level isn't bad, it's just that there are a lot more perks to sitting in the lower level.
The Rattlers bench is in the northwest corner in front of sections 115 and 116. The visiting bench is in the northeast corner in front of sections 123 and 101. The logos on the playing field face the west side, which is sections 112-116 and 217-221. There are some suites available, but the Casino Arizona Club on the north end was closed, probably because of how the uprights/netting situation in the AFL sets up in the arena.
For 2013, the only video boards working were the main scoreboard above midfield. I believe the other video boards in the arena are being upgraded for the 2013-14 Suns season, and were just open boxes during the Rattlers game. The video boards on the main scoreboard show live game action, as well as replays, but did not show replays when a coach challenged the play.
There are many in-game promotions throughout the entire game. One of the more unique ones was the Papa John's pizza drop, where slices of pizza were dropped from the catwalks down to the fans using parachutes. A lot of trivia with prizes happened as well, most of the segments themed from a Rattlers player's name. Our halftime entertainment was an agility dog race, which I loved. The mascot, Stryker, is very prevalent during the game as well. He, the RatPack and the Sidewinders, who are the cheerleaders, do a very good job of keeping the crowd engaged the entire time.
The music selection for Rattlers games is definitely an interesting part of the experience. All of it is either 80s hair metal bands, or top 50 hip hop and pop songs. Very eclectic, but very awesome. After each Rattlers touchdown, AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" is played along with a single firework blast. Not going to lie, I got a little tired of Thunderstruck by the time the Rattlers got to 50 points. There's also very clever music during timeouts, when the visiting team has a penalty called on them, and when the refs get together to discuss a call.
US Airways Center is part of the Legends Entertainment District in Downtown Phoenix. Downtown Phoenix has quite the plethora of options for pre- and postgame entertainment.
The main attraction near USAC is Chase Field, home of the Diamondbacks. With Arena Football being played during the spring and summer, there are chances to pull an MLB/AFL double header.
The official postgame headquarters for the Rattlers is Majerle's, a sports bar and grill about a block and a half north of the arena on the corner of 2nd St. and Washington. There you can get a drink and a burger for about $14. I got the All-Star Burger on this trip, which is basically a bacon cheeseburger. I've also heard the chicken and rice is good, as well as the turkey sandwich. And they give you a lot of food for your money.
Downtown has a lot more options than just Majerle's though. Right across the street from the arena on the north side is the Tilted Kilt and Hard Rock Café. On the south side is Alice Cooperstown, and Chase Field also has Friday's Front Row Grill. All of these places are sports bars, so just take your pick of where you want to go. The rest of downtown and the Legends Entertainment District have a ton of food and drink options. You can find all of the options on the official Downtown Phoenix website.
In addition to the restaurants, you'll also find tons of hotel options. Every major chain has a property somewhere in the downtown area. Hotel Palomar is the closest to US Airways Center, but everything downtown is within walking distance. Most Rattlers games are at night as well, so heat isn't too big of an issue when walking around downtown.
Other entertainment options include the Arizona Science Center, the Symphony Hall at the Phoenix Convention Center, and the Arizona State Capitol Museum among other things. The museums are open in the afternoon, so checking out the Science Center or the Capitol Building, then heading to dinner and checking out the Rattlers can be made into an entire day.
By and large, Arizona pro sports fans are fair-weather fans that don't provide a lot of electricity in the building during games. Rattlers fans are the exception.
The entire game was electric. I'm sure this departure from the Arizona norm is due to the prolonged success of the Rattlers and the lack of "transplant" Arena Football fans, but whatever works. Usually, especially at say a Suns game, if the PA announcer asks for noise, he doesn't get it. At a Rattlers game, he gets it and then some for the entire game. Not just the fourth quarter. The whole way through. It's refreshing to see and hear that. It also helps that rosters for the Arena Football are small, so it makes it easy to learn who all the guys are.
US Airways Center is located on Jefferson St. in between 1st and 3rd Streets. Downtown Phoenix is between I-10 and I-17, making it very easy to access no matter which direction you are coming from. Sky Harbor International Airport is just a short drive away as well.
Downtown Phoenix now has a light rail system, which costs $4 for an all-day pass. The light rail has a stop right in front of US Airways Center at the Third St./Jefferson station. The train runs all the way through Downtown Phoenix, goes to Sky Harbor, and continues down to the main part of the campus of Arizona State where Sun Devil Stadium, Packard Stadium and Wells Fargo Arena are, as well as Mill Ave.
For Rattlers games, there is ample parking. Close garages cost $10, we found a parking lot just south of the arena on 2nd St. that was charging $5, but the majority of them were charging $8. The Chase Field garage is also just $5. But all of Downtown has plenty of parking options for free and then you have the option to ride the light rail to wherever you want to go.
For Rattlers games, the arena is definitely not filled to capacity, so getting around is extremely easy, including during halftime. Concession stand lines don't really hold up any traffic in the concourse. You can't see the playing field though when walking around the concourse from anywhere. Bathroom lines are also not an issue at any point.
Security is very limited. It was very quick and easy to get into the building, and then to get to our seats.
The biggest shock to me is that the Rattlers seem to overcharge for pretty much everything. Tickets in the lower level can cost $50-$75, and the upper level from $8-$40 depending on if you sit in the obstructed view seats or not. To go along with the high ticket prices, the food prices are extremely high. It's almost cheaper to go out for a nice meal somewhere in the area before the game than waiting to eat at the game. Parking isn't too bad pricewise, but I feel like the Rattlers are overcharging and could draw a lot more people to games if the prices were lowered for tickets and food.
A lot of fan-friendly extras are found throughout the arena.
The upper level has the APS Gorilla Greenhouse. It's themed after the Suns' famous mascot, but it is still open for Rattlers games. It gives the little ones a place to go play for a while, but also has flat screen TVs throughout so you don't miss a minute of game action.
After the game, the Rattlers have a postgame autograph session on the field, where all fans are welcome to come on the field to meet their favorite players, cheerleaders and Stryker the mascot. It's pretty cool that they do this for the fans after every home game.
The three championship banners are found at the top of the southwest corner of the arena, and three retired numbers are above the south seating area. The three retired numbers belong to Rattlers legends Sherdrick Bonner, Hunkie Cooper, and Randy Gatewood. All three were around during the back-to-back-to-back championship game run from 2002-04. Bonner is regarded as one of the best players in Arena Football history, having thrown for 855 career touchdowns, many of those to Cooper and Gatewood. Both Cooper and Gatewood played college football at UNLV.
All Arizona Rattlers games can be found on local TV on Cox 7 Arizona. I think it's been good for them to have all of their games on television, especially during this extremely successful run. Since having a new ownership group in 2011, they haven't missed the playoffs, and will possibly appear in the ArenaBowl each of those years as well depending on how the 2013 playoffs pan out.
The Rattlers are my personal favorite team to see at US Airways Center. Although the main focus of the building is on the Suns and Mercury, the Rattlers are the most successful and most entertaining to watch. They've proven throughout their history to be a highly-competitive franchise, and show no signs of slowing down. I just wish they would make it a little more affordable to draw people to the games on a consistent basis.
The Arizona Rattlers are a team in the Arena Football League and have played in the US Airways Center in Phoenix, AZ since its inception in 1992. Other tenants of the arena are the Phoenix Suns (NBA) and the Phoenix Mercury (WNBA).
The Rattlers have played in five ArenaBowls, winning the championship in both 1994 and 1997. They have also won six division titles.
“Less Field; More Football” is the Rattlers motto.
US Airways Center has a majestic grand entranceway. There is a wide open space to congregate in the entranceway with plenty of ticket windows; there are many banners and a huge video display promoting upcoming events. When using this entrance, you can definitely tell the NBA Suns are the more popular team that plays in this arena.
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