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  • Writer's pictureAaron S. Terry

Rio Rancho Events Center – Duke City Gladiators

Photos by Aaron S. Terry, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.29

Rio Rancho Events Center 3001 Civic Center Cir NE Rio Rancho, NM 87144

Year Opened: 2006

Capacity: 6,000


Duke City Football

Named after the 10th Duke of Albuquerque, the city in New Mexico has long been known as the Duke City – the Gladiators of the Indoor Football League (IFL) took their name from this moniker. The team was founded in 2015 as part of Champions Indoor Football (CIF), and previously played at Tingley Coliseum in Albuquerque.

That facility was used as a vaccine clinic during the pandemic, however, forcing the team to move to Rio Rancho Events Center in nearby Rio Rancho, where they remain today. Rio Rancho Events Center opened in 2006 and is also home to the New Mexico Runners of indoor soccer.

Food & Beverage 3

Most of the concession stands at Rio Rancho Events Center, though not all, are open during Duke City Gladiator games. There is a good range of menu items, including a couple of full bars, but prices tend to be a little on the high side (for example $7 for a basic hot dog).

Food vendors here include Black Angus Grill, which offers their New Mexico-themed signature green chili bacon burger, Hot Dog Nation, which offers Chicago-style and other dogs, and Chicken Fry Fry for tenders and chicken sandwiches. These stands also offer all the traditional menu items such as nachos, cookies, soft pretzels, packaged candy, popcorn, cotton candy, and kettle corn – except for the main dishes the same items are sold at all three stands.

For drinks, there is City Club, which offers mixed drinks, beer, and wine, while Rio Refrescas offers tropical fruit drinks and canned beer, sodas, and other beverages. The main stands mentioned above also have soda, bottled water, Gatorade, energy drinks, fruit juice, and canned beer.

Atmosphere 4

The Gladiators pull out all the stops for indoor football here – though the crowd is pretty small during most games, the staff does a lot to make the event as entertaining as possible. Of particular note is the MC, who stands on top of a table in a teal sports coat behind one end zone the whole game, dancing along with the crowd and firing up the fans by drumming on his forearm with a drumstick, as well as announcing major happenings on the field (“That pass was…in…com…plete!”); he is a lot of fun to watch.

The PA announcer also plays a lot of great dance music, including old hits like Macarena and We Will Rock You, as well as new favorites like Baby Alligator (Red Pens), and the dance team tosses free mini footballs and t-shirts to the crowd multiple times each quarter.

During pregame the strobe and spotlights are turned on as the starters are introduced, accompanied by representatives from a local motorcycle club, and at the most recent game I attended, there was even a local SWAT team that repelled from the ceiling.

Rio Rancho Events Center doesn’t have one of the 4-sided scoreboards hung over midfield – instead, there is a small videoboard on one sideline to watch replays, and basic scoreboards above each end zone – and there is no mascot, but they do have a great dance team, all the chairs have seat backs, and the turf looks clean and brand new. They also have one of their players give the prayer before the game, and one of the members of the dance team sings the National Anthem, which is a nice way to focus on the team.

Neighborhood 3

Rio Rancho is about half an hour north of Albuquerque, and the venue is a bit off the main drag so there aren’t any restaurants or hotels within sight of it, but you will find plenty along Highway 528, both chains and local favorites. In terms of attractions, there are plenty of parks within a short distance of Rio Rancho Events Center, but not much else unless you head back to Albuquerque, where you can find cool roadside spots like the Turquoise Museum or the Tumbleweed Snowman (but the snowman may be gone by indoor football season, as it is more of a Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday thing).

Fans 1

Very few fans show up for Duke City Gladiator games, perhaps in part because the venue is not in Albuquerque proper, making it more of a drive for most – at a typical game you might only see about 200 fans in attendance, which unfortunately makes the venue look pretty empty.

Access 4

Getting to Rio Rancho Events Center is pretty easy, as there is very little traffic in the area, and you can park for free. There is plenty of room to move around the concourse, short concessions lines, and more than enough bathrooms to accommodate everyone; there are also elevators inside if needed. The only thing really to pay attention to is that on the main level, you cannot go all the way around (the concourse is blocked off behind one end zone), so if you happen to need to get to the other side, you may have to walk all the way around.

Return on Investment 4

Despite the very small crowd, it is worthwhile to see a game here – the staff does so many great things to entertain fans, and tickets start at only $13. In addition, since the venue will not be full you can buy the cheap seats and sit as close as you want.

Extras 4

A lot of the game sponsors are local unions, which is a nice nod to the local trades. There are also a ton of vendors who come in each game with giveaways, such as Dave and Buster’s or the local corrections center (recruiting for new hires), and cool events during halftime, such as having the State Champion lacrosse team strut their stuff on the field. The Gladiators also have a team store inside if you want to pick up any Duke City swag, and all fans are invited to an afterparty at a local restaurant, for example, Buffalo Wild Wings.

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