Photos by Aaron S. Terry, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.00
Tucson Arena 260 S Church Ave Tucson, AZ 85701
Year Opened: 1971
At present the Indoor Football League has 14 teams, 3 of which are located in Arizona – the Northern Arizona Wranglers, the Arizona Rattlers, and the Tucson Sugar Skulls, which probably have the best team name in the league. The Rattlers and Sugar Skulls have the same owners; the Rattlers have been so successful in their 30-year run (winning 6 championships in that time), it only made sense for the owners to create a second team in 2019.
The Sugar Skulls play in Tucson Arena, the arena inside Tucson’s convention center. The arena is shared with minor league hockey’s Tucson Roadrunners, as well as a club hockey team from the University of Arizona. The facility has a maximum capacity of 8,962 fans and was built in 1971 – the complex is listed on the National Register of Historic Places due to some of the acts it has hosted, including the Ice Capades and Elvis Presley.
Food & Beverage 4
Tucson Arena offers 2 tiers of concessions – when fans enter the facility they will most likely progress onto a walkway at the top of the seating bowl. This walkway holds a slew of higher-end concessions, including Mexican (nachos, tacos, etc.), Chick-fil-A, a pretzel and churro vendor, gourmet cheesecake by the slice and brownies, and hot mini donuts, along with a couple of beer vendors, with prices a little on the high side, for example, $9 for a Chick-fil-A sandwich or hot pretzel with beer cheese, and $12 for tacos, nachos, or the quesadilla.
But if you walk down to the lower 100 level (either by walking down through the stands or by walking back out to the outer concourse and using the back staircase), there are 2 “hidden” concessions stands, one on each side behind/under the 100 level seating – this concession stands offer a smaller selection of lower priced options (hot dogs, popcorn, nachos, and packaged candy), as well as bottled water, soda, and draft domestic or premium beer.
Admittedly the quality of the concessions downstairs is not quite as good as the upper level, but they do come in a little cheaper if you are trying to keep to a budget – think $4 for a pretzel (add $2 for cheese) and $7 for nachos.
The best thing about a Sugar Skulls game is their mascot – a skeleton-faced individual decked out in Skulls team gear. He is constantly roaming the field pumping up the crowd, often jumping up and dancing on the wall around the field, and directly interacting with the crowd in the first row. He also participates in some of the on-field contests, for example when two fans are invited onto the field to try and kick a field goal to win a prize, or at the end of the third quarter when fans toss mini footballs into a bucket at midfield – the balls are numbered, and any fan who gets their ball in the bucket has a chance to win a prize as well.
Besides the mascot there is also a dance team, the Sugar Dolls, and plenty of loud music being played, especially favorites like YMCA and Sweet Caroline, where the music is turned down at certain parts and fans are asked to sing the words. All the seats are also soft chair backs, which is a plus, but there is only one scoreboard on the far end, making it hard to see replays, and there are not very many fans in the stands (more on this later).
Tucson Arena is not far from downtown Tucson, so you can find plenty to see and do not far from the venue, including myriad restaurants, the most common of which are Mexican, being that this is the southwest. A couple of non-Mexican options are Reilly Craft Pizza and Drink, known for its upscale thin crust pizza creations and beer garden, and Hub Restaurant & Ice Creamery, which offers ice cream of course, but also several seafood options, as well as lighter fare like sandwiches and salads if you are looking for lunch. There are also plenty of hotels in the area.
Another great attraction to be on the lookout for is the Sonora Desert Museum, a few miles west of the city – this is a great way to look at some of the local flora and fauna. You can even look a cougar right in the eyes from about 1 foot away (through a thick pane of glass, fortunately). Also, as you travel up and down I-10, you may get to see some trains passing you – the area is still a hotbed for railroad activity.
At the most recent game I attended, the game went into overtime and by the end of it, there were hardly any fans still in attendance. There was not a ton to begin with either, but to have so many of them trickle out during a close game was a little disappointing, and even at its fullest the low attendance made the arena seem very empty. Don’t get me wrong – there were certainly a few diehards in attendance, dressed in full regalia as you will always see at any sporting event, but overall the attendance was lackluster. It may take time for the team to build up more of a fan base, being a newish team.
Traffic is not too bad getting to Tucson Arena, but I would suggest parking across the street from the venue and walking over, rather than parking in the small parking deck right next to the convention center. The cost is $10 either way, but it took a while to get out of the parking deck, which given its small size (only 3 levels) should not have been the case.
Access inside the convention center is a little odd as well – I mentioned what I called the back staircase earlier, and if you use that, it feels like you are walking through the dingy bowels of the convention center to get to your seat.
On some level it is kind of cool, because you can walk right up behind the end zone where the players and Sugar Dolls are, and no one will stop you because that is technically one way to get to your seat, so from that perspective you can get a close view of the inner workings of a game. However, the main end zone is set off a little from the field, meaning fans can’t stand under the net and try to catch footballs after kicks like you can at other indoor football venues.
Return on Investment 3
Tickets to Tucson Sugar Skulls games start at around $25 including ticketing fees, which is pretty reasonable, although they made me buy 2 tickets for 1 person because you aren’t allowed to leave a single seat in the row. Otherwise, I think the price is certainly fair, and parking and concessions are not out of line depending on what you get, but except for the mascot the experience inside is a little lacking.
The Sugar Skulls do all the normal things you generally see at indoor football games, like the music and the on-field contests, but there isn’t a whole lot that stands out besides their cool team name and their mascot. The Sugar Dolls do a nice job, especially if you are sitting in the main end zone where they perform for most of the game (when they are not out on the field itself). I did notice the Sugar Skulls have cheaper team gear than other teams in the area, so that is a plus if you are looking for a souvenir of your visit. They also did have a local musician do a guitar solo for the National Anthem at the last game I attended, which was pretty sweet.
If you are in the area, a visit to Tucson Arena for a Sugar Skulls game should be somewhat enjoyable, but if you are willing to travel a little further north, some of the other indoor football teams in the region offer a bit more as part of their experience and have venues that are a little less dated.