Phoenix area enhancing its reputation as major sports mecca

Fans take pictures as the team from Alabama leaves after media day for the NCAA College Football Playoff National Championship in Phoenix, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016. Alabama will face Clemson in Monday's game. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Fans take pictures as the team from Alabama leaves after media day for the NCAA College Football Playoff National Championship in Phoenix, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016. Alabama will face Clemson in Monday's game. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

PHOENIX (AP) — College football fans were greeted by rain and chilly temperatures this week, a rarity in the Valley of the Sun this time of year. It did little to dull the buildup to Monday’s national championship game between Alabama and Clemson.

When it comes hosting big events, the Phoenix area has plenty of experience doing it right — even when the weather doesn’t cooperate.

“We’ve hosted so many over the years that we have a tremendous amount of experience, a tremendous amount of infrastructure built in, certainly the hotel resorts — our tourism industry is at the top of the nation — and our weather, outside of what’s happening right now, is a pretty good lead to allow us to host these things,” said Tom Sadler, president and CEO of the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, the public agency that owns University of Phoenix Stadium.

Starting with Penn State’s win over Miami in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl, college football’s national champion has been crowned here seven times, including twice in the BCS championship.

Phoenix has been the site of three Super Bowls, the latest last year when the Pro Bowl also was played at University of Phoenix Stadium.

There also have been two NBA championship series in the desert, a World Series, NBA and Major League Baseball All-Star games, NCAA Tournament games and the 1993 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. The Phoenix Open, which seems to set PGA Tour attendance records every year, is played here annually, along with Cactus League baseball and two NASCAR races. IndyCar racing also is returning to the Valley this year.

Phoenix is in the midst of a big-event bonanza, with Monday night’s college football national championship sandwiched between the Super Bowl and the 2017 Final Four.

The success of the Valley’s previous major events became the building block for the latest run — and beyond.

“I think that sports culture that we have is really woven into our identity,” said Debbie Johnson, director of the Arizona Office of Tourism. “It becomes a positive for us because when you’re going to bid on these major events, people already know about Arizona and the Phoenix metro area, and all we can do to make them successful.”

The foundation of Phoenix’s success is an infrastructure that’s already in place.

The area relies heavily on tourism and is dotted with resorts and hotels. Finding a room is never a problem. Neither is locating a good spot to eat or grab a drink.

Most fan activities for big sporting events are held in downtown Phoenix and posh Scottsdale often becomes the party hub with its cache of nightclubs and five-star restaurants.

Once game day arrives, the festivities shift to the west in Glendale and University of Phoenix Stadium, where tailgating and the main event are held.

“It’s not about one city over the other, it’s about us as a region and a destination and our cities get it,” Johnson said. “When I talk to my counterparts across the country, they don’t always have the same thing, so I think we’re lucky.”

With the weather, too — at least most of the time.

While the Valley of the Sun is brutally hot for about four months every summer, it typically has ideal weather the rest of the year. Temperatures during the winter, when most of the big sporting events are held, are often in the T-shirt-and-shorts range and the nights cool, not freezing.

The mild weather allows tourists — and visiting sports fans — to take advantage of all the outdoor activities, including golf, hiking, biking or just walking around town.

The week leading up to the national championship game was a bit of an anomaly — thanks, El Nino — with rain early in the week and highs around 50 instead of the usual mid-60s and up.

The weather should be a little closer than normal for Monday’s title game, with sunny skies and a high of 59 expected.

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