PHOENIX – Despite a sports market with little elbow room, limited media coverage and obstacles including a canceled season, the Arizona Rattlers have stiff-armed adversity and remain a player in the Arizona sports scene.
Proof? They just completed their 27th season.
Among the Valley’s professional teams, that’s longer than Major League Baseball’s Diamondbacks, the NHL’s Coyotes, the WNBA’s Mercury and the USL Championship’s Phoenix Rising. Only the NFL’s Cardinals and the NBA’s Suns have stronger footholds.
“You have to find a way and a niche to stay and become relevant and for us it’s price point,” said former Rattlers team president Chris Presson, who Wednesday was named president and CEO of the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Eskimos. “A lot of the people who can’t afford to go to the four major league sports with regularity, they can afford to come to our games every single night.”
The team’s longevity suggests a winning formula of affordability, entertainment and success, including six titles and postseason trips in 23 of 27 seasons. This year’s team, which advanced to the United Bowl Championship against the Sioux Falls Storm, averaged 13,684 fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
It’s not always a smooth ride. Its residence in the Arena Football League from 1992-2016 was interrupted in 2009 when the AFL canceled the season because of economic woes.
Most players hold other jobs because pay is low. Practice facilities in the Indoor Football League look like nothing of those belonging to their NFL counterparts. But for players who hope to get noticed by the NFL – Super Bowl and former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner played three seasons of indoor football – or aren’t ready to stop competing in the sport they love, the league serves an important purpose.
Affordability has been a key selling point for the Rattlers. During the 2019 season, single-game tickets were available starting at $10 and season tickets at $80. The average single-game ticket price for NFL teams in 2017, for example, ranged from $107 (Buffalo Bills) to $530 (New England Patriots, according to a study by vividseats.com. The Cardinals’ average was $129.
The games are about far more than football, fans say, with fireworks, motorcycles and loud music serving as accompaniments.
The game is unique, too, in indoor football. Fields are 50 yards long, not 100. Eight players are on the field, not 11. And punting? It’s illegal.
Butch Neuber was introduced to the Rattlers by a family member nine years ago. He quickly became a fan of the unique style of football.
“My son was a fan since 1997 and then he got me involved,” Neuber said. “He’s no longer with us but we stayed on as a Rattler faithful and we travel.”
Players say home field advantage is a real thing as the organization promotes its games like its promoting a rock concert. Fireworks explode after every touchdown and the music is loud and continuous to encourage fans to support their team.
“I know the passion of the fanbase here and I know the passion of the organization,” IFL Commissioner Michael Allshouse said. “They are going to put out a great show and a good, high-quality professional product no matter where the game is played and I would expect nothing else from them.”
Strength in familiarity
The organization’s rich history dates back nearly three decades when Jerry Colangelo was awarded the expansion team on Sept. 11, 1991.
The Rattlers’ first coach, former Arizona State and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Danny White, stayed 13 years. Their most recent one, Kevin Guy, just completed his 11th season.
He has taken the Rattlers franchise to the playoffs all of those seasons, winning three straight Arena Bowls and the team’s first United Bowl in 2017.