America West Arena, originally built as the home of the Phoenix Suns, also became the
home of the Phoenix Coyotes when this franchise moved here from Winnipeg in 1996.
Additionally, the building also houses Arena Football's Arizona Rattlers and the WNBA
Phoenix Mercury. As we shall explain, this venue is a basketball arena; it is configured as
such, and as a result does not work well for sports or events requiring a larger surface.
The arena was opened in 1992, and for the Phoenix Suns, this represented a move from the
Memorial Coliseum, just north of downtown Phoenix and still standing and open for
business to this day. Seating just over 19,000 for basketball, America West Arena is part of
downtown's new Copper District, which also includes Bank One Ballpark, office
development, housing, parking and restaurants.
Outside the venue
Getting to the arena is pretty easy, with a well laid out interstate system looping around the
downtown core and wide parkway type downtown streets everywhere. Parking here starts
at $10, but drops quickly less than a block away and $5 and even $3 lots were in
abundance. Meters are not monitored at night, so snag a free spot if you can, and since
streets are well lit and clean, things here are pretty safe.
The arena is bound on the north side by skyscrapers, east and west by parking, including a
parking ramp built right into the complex, and south is where redevelopment is underway.
Directly across the street from the south entrance are two VERY cool sports bars -
"Cooperstown", Alice Cooper's eatery just full of sports and music memorabilia, and
"Jackson's on Third". Both places have large outdoor patios and gathering areas to enjoy
the terrific Arizona weather (we say "terrific" because it is November).
The signature entrance to the venue is on the northwest side, and here is a large public
plaza with the ticket and will call windows, fountains, landscaping, benches. Both the Suns
and the Coyotes present elaborate pregame entertainment out here to draw fans early for
the festivities. Radio stations had their booths up, vendors selling souvenirs, a live band
playing music all made for a nice way to begin the evening here.
All the concourses here at the arena recently underwent a facelift, and we could still see
some of the construction dust evident in nooks and crannies. With terrazzo tile flooring,
walls are all backlit in a soft blue, with futuristic looking silver panels on the ceiling and
silver wall accents. Section signage is done to match. There is one escalator tower to take
you to the upper concourse, and inside the "main" northwest entrance is a team store and
a lobby, while not huge, providing ample entrance space.
That being said, we give a major deduction to the space afforded to the upper level
concourse. Once you ride the escalator to the top, you step into a corridor which is not
more than three people wide. Add these tiny concession stands with only two stations
each, and that makes for massive long lines for food and drink. The upper level here is not
much better than the orange level at the old Aud - we can't even imagine the chaos if this
place had to be evacuated in a hurry. What were the designers of this venue thinking???!
Other than the standard fare, the one stand stand that did catch our eye was the
"Southwestern Grill", offering Quesadillas among other local delicacies. The large and
spacious concession stands are in the the lower concourse... the design and placement of
these stands upstairs was almost an afterthought... "let the people in the cheap seats eat
Over 19,000 seats for basketball and 16, 210 for hockey, the seating bowl is colored in
Phoenix Suns purple, except for a section of grey seats ringing the top of the 100 level in
the west end zone. This area was recently renovated and is now part of a "Platinum Club".
A four sided dot matrix scoreboard hangs in the center. And on all four sides of the rafters
hangs video boards. Along all the balconies are collages of backlit ad panels which are
poorly organized and make the seating bowl look busy. Between the lower and upper
levels is a private level of 88 suites.
Our major commentary here concerns the seating configuration for NHL hockey. Because
of the way this arena was built, it is configured for basketball, with a tight, intimate seating
configuration. To reconfigure it for hockey, they remove the lowest seats at the one end
zone and push the rink out into that direction. First of all, this means that the scoreboard
hangs roughly above the blue line... (soooo Blue Cross Arena in Rochester!). Second, that
means that the remaining end zone/corner seats in the 100 level and those above in the
200 level become obstructed. Fans sitting there can not see anything beyond the top of the
face off circle. We are not talking about a few seats here... we are talking THOUSANDS of
seats, including the new "Platinum" seats which are supposed to command top dollar.
They left Winnipeg for THIS???!!!
The Coyotes have the gall to actually charge money to fans to sit there.. granted, $9 and
$21, but still, we were amazed that people would be foolish enough to actually part with
their cash just for the privilege of sitting inside this building to see two thirds of a hockey
The new "Platinum Club" is located along the west endzone, and with wider, padded, grey
seats, private concourse, restaurant, and in seat waiter service, the Suns were pushing
their new club heavily. A couple of thoughts - being in the end zone, these aren't the
premium vantage points to watch a game from, especially an NBA game. Second, for the
NHL Coyotes this "club" is useless, for the seats corresponding to this premium area are
all obstructed view.
The policy for NHL games on who gets to go in the club is still fuzzy, and the day after the
game, we learned that season ticket holders were grumbling that they were not given
access. The $21 seat holders were denied access. Who gets in the club, who doesn't?
Depends on which usher you walk by and what kind of mood he/she is in, we guess. Bottom
line - this whole club seat thing is ONE BIG MESS here in Phoenix.
On The upper level balcony opposite the"club" level are the names and numbers of
several of the finest players ever to wear the Sun's uniform. Some of the names (with
faces) are Dick Van Arsdale, Connie Hawkins, Alvin Adams, Paul Westphal, Tom Chambers
and Kevin Johnson. These names and others are bookended by signs representing the
Suns' two Western Conference titles in 1976 AND 1993.
No items of note for the Coyotes/Jets. Their WHA Avco Cups must still be sitting under the
watchful eyes of Queen Elizabeth II at the Winnipeg Arena. However some of the dot matrix
boards do scroll occasional facts and figures concerning the Coyotes/Jets franchise.
Slam dunks... assists.. fouls
Slam dunk, errr.. "Hat Trick" - Things get a bit better from here - the Coyotes use the
Coyote "howl" as a mainstay of their cheerleading, substituting the "HOWL" in the
"CHARGE" theme, using songs and video clips involving howls, all done very cleverly.
Hat Trick - Following a tradition started by the fans in Winnipeg, Coyotes fans in attendance
at playoff games are all dressed in WHITE. What a great way of showing solidarity with the
team! Props to Coyotes fans (and Winnipeg Jets fans!).
Foul - the location of the video boards is way high up, and out of your line of vision if you
are looking at replays and the playing surface at the same time. Of course, if you are one of
the wretched fools who shelled out $21 for a view of a blue line and a railing, then the
video boards up high suit you just fine.
Slam dunk, errr.. "Home Run"... Sandwiched in between these two games we managed to
take in baseball's Arizona Fall League Championship Game at Scottsdale Stadium. Great
minor league venue, a sunny 80 degree day, and the home team Phoenix Desert Dogs plate
7 runs in the bottom of the 9th to win the game in dramatic fashion, 12-8. Thanks to Ryan
Eigenbrode of Major League Baseball public relations for the press credentials!
This is a striking building from the outside - attractive back lit marquees, flood lighting,
beautiful public spaces, and all downtown, but the inside left us disappointed, from the
tight upper concourses, to the lack of fan amenities to the "so-so" seating bowl. We do
have to give props, though, to the Phoenix fans who back their Suns, and anything run by
team owner Mr. Jerry Colangelo is usually done professionally and first class!
As far as hockey goes, we are sorry to be so harsh, but with this horrific configuration we
have no choice but to rate this the WORST hockey venue in the NHL. There are plans for a
new arena... at first there was talk for a venue in Phoenix, and then plans were drawn for
the Los Arcos project in Scottsdale. That plan fell apart, but apparently now there is talk for
ground breaking soon for the Coyotes new home in Glendale. Can the Coyotes go from
worst to first in terms of their venue? Get a shovel in ground, get it built, and the Ultimate
Sports Road Trip will be back to check things out!
Food and team store 5
Scoreboard and electronics 5
Fan support 7
Location and neighborhood 6
Banners and history 8
In game entertainment 4
Concourses/fan comfort 3
Bonus: Mike Tyson sighting 2; The Gorilla mascot 1; Adjacent to baseball park 2
Total points: 54
NBA - Los