Phoenix Rising’s move to Wild Horse Pass is all about fan experience

Dec 11, 2020, 11:46 AM | Updated: 12:10 pm
A rendering of Phoenix Rising FC's new stadium to be built at Gila River's Wild Horse Pass. (Twitte...
A rendering of Phoenix Rising FC's new stadium to be built at Gila River's Wild Horse Pass. (Twitter photo/@PHXRisingFC)
(Twitter photo/@PHXRisingFC)

For the second time in the club’s history, Phoenix Rising FC is building a new stadium.

The new pitch — which has yet to be given an official name — will be located at Gila River’s Wild Horse Pass in Chandler.

The immediate question that comes to mind: Why would PRFC move after four years at Casino Arizona Field?

Easy. Fan experience.

There’s no arguing how miserable it was for fans to get in and out of the one entrance into CAZ. Not to mention the dust that would fly through the air from the dirt parking lot, leading those with dirty cars to cherish Zac Lubin clean sheets that much more.

“It’s all about fans. When you come to the stadium, what you’re going to see that is different is access first of all,” Phoenix Rising governor Berke Bakay said. “It pained us to watch our fans try to get out of our stadium for sometimes 30 minutes or longer. So you’re going to see a dramatic change of an infrastructure improvement.”

Notable upgrades at the new facilities will include a 35% capacity increase from the previous 6,200 at Casino Arizona Field. However, I have been told that is a conservative estimate, as PRFC intends to expand to 10,000 or more.

“When you start talking about 9,000-10,000 seats, you’re getting pretty serious,” manager Rick Schantz said. “If we can start selling out 10,000 and maybe squeeze in another 2,000-3,000 over time. For me, it’s a club that behaves like they’re already in the MLS. … If we want to go to the MLS, we need to start behaving like we’re in the MLS now.”

Other amenities that are going to be noticeably different for fans will be three to four entrances and exits, paved parking, real bathrooms, a family section and a double-sided video board that will show replays and will be viewable from outside the stadium. Additionally, a tailgating area is planned to be created, but nothing is set in stone just yet.

“I’m going to meet with the supporters and introduce those guys to the fine folks here at Gila River and we’ll certainly have some conversation,” GM Bobby Dulle said.

“Whether it’s the new lawn and the activities that can take place before the game, I know that’s something that the fans talk about a lot and we’ve heard that — similar to the other amenities that our fans are looking — so it’s certainly not off the table.”

The main negative review thus far from Phoenix Rising fans is the new location isn’t as centralized in the Valley compared to Casino Arizona Field.

However, the decision to move from the Scottsdale/Tempe border to Chandler wasn’t one that was made with great haste. In fact, the Gila River Development Authority and Rawhide have been in talks with PRFC since January and the club invested in research to find out exactly where Rising faithful are flocking from.

“We work with third parties to spend a lot of money on research so we know that we can target the right folks and understand who our consumers are and what they’re looking for so that you can make improvements and do things that ultimately cater to your fanbase,” Dulle added. “We have a pretty good idea on the profile on our fans and where they’re coming from to come to our matches.”

Another factor that allured Phoenix Rising to Wild Horse Pass is the fact that Rawhide and the Gila River Development Authority guaranteed that the new stadium and surrounding facilities would be completed by the start of the 2021 USL Championship season, which is scheduled for the beginning of May.

“It’s important to have the infrastructure that they have in place and the ability to expand our capacity at the pace that we need to expand it,” Dulle said. “The ambition from Gila River here is so exciting … So we’re really excited about the fan experience being greatly improved and can’t wait until we’re having games once again.”

Rawhide general manager Mark Grado estimates that the new modular stadium will cost “at least several million” dollars, but added that Gila River “did it within confines of our already allocated budgets.” However, Grado was not able to comment as to how much PRFC had invested or what else the club might bring to the table in the future.

“I believe it’s six years, initially,” Grado said of the partnership. “But we’re looking for a much better, bigger, final destination is the hope. This gives us both the opportunity to gauge the development needs and what we have to do — I think we all want to see Phoenix Rising reach the apex of what their final goals are. I think that’s an MLS badge and that’s what we’d like to see for them too.”

From an actual pitch perspective, the club will have two training fields to alternate from in addition to a larger locker room facility, both of which have already been getting raving reviews from PRFC players.

“This is every kid’s dream,” fullback Darnell King said. “I’ve been saying it and I can’t stop saying it because when you look to the future, I think kids are going to strive to want to play at a club like this, at an organization like this, especially with a facility that they’re putting together.

“It’s very welcoming for the fans and families that come here. Even the players — this makes you want to come to train every day when you know what you’re about to walk into every day.”

But that doesn’t mean the players won’t miss all the memories made at Casino Arizona Field, where the club has been able to deliver an on-field product that includes two Western Conference championships, a regular-season title, and the only back-to-back MVP and Assist Champion in USL Championship history.

“For the last couple of years, we’ve been selling out and we’ve all kind of been wondering why aren’t we adding seats to the stands?” Lubin said. “We heard that was a possibility. Now it’s going to be even better, it’s finally happening.

“We turned Casino Arizona Field into a fortress and I think we’re going to turn this into a bigger one. So I’m very excited. I know how loud it was with the 7,000-8,000 fans we had. Now it’s going to be next-level.”

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