While it is true that Phoenix takes most of the attention for Arizona sports and that the University of Arizona’s athletics dominates the market, it’s much too easy to overlook the professional sports options that exist here for the common fan to go to. In this piece, I’ll give you a basic rundown of Tucson’s four professional sports teams, the leagues they play in, and where they play with maybe some additional information.
Sport: Men’s ice hockey
League: American Hockey League (AHL)
Arena: Tucson Convention Center Arena (6,791)
Started Play: 1994 (as the Springfield Falcons), 2016 (in Tucson)
Season Length: October to April
Playing in the AHL, the Roadrunners act as a minor league affiliate to the Arizona Coyotes of the National Hockey League (NHL). The Roadrunners are the Coyotes’ top affiliate, meaning the players you see on the ice are just one more step away from the top level. The players show more refinement than what you’ll find at a Wildcats hockey game and promos for autographed items happen quite often (signed t-shirts tossed into the crowd every home game).
If you’re a fan of hockey, it’s worth trying to make it out to a Roadrunners game. Tickets are often under $20 and just about every seat in the Tucson Arena is a good one. The concessions can be a bit pricey, but the specialty meals of the game are often worth the cost. Games are often played on Friday and Saturday nights when in town with occasional midweek matches that draw far smaller crowds. The Tucson Arena is also very accessible due to its downtown Tucson location, the SunLink having stops on Congress St. to get there and busses also a viable option. There is also fair parking room but be ready to possibly pay for it.
Due to the state of the rebuilding Coyotes in the NHL, do be wary that any of the players you see might get called up soon and the quality of play has decreased this season. Despite this, the Roadrunners have already won two division championships in the now approaching six years of play in the area (2017-18, '19-20).
Sport: Association football (soccer), men’s professional and women’s amateur
League: United Soccer League 1 (USL1)
Arena: Kino Sports Complex North Stadium (3,200)
Started Play: 2011
Season Length: May to October
FC Tucson plays in USL1, which is the third level of American association football under the USL Championship and Major League Soccer (MLS) on top. The team originally played one level below in USL2, but in 2019 the squad was promoted to its current position. Despite being third level, the team has been quite talented, only having two losing seasons in its now 11-year existence on the field. In 2014, '15, '16, and '18 they made it to the USL2 conference finals and just last year they made it to the USL1 semi-finals before being eliminated.
Besides play in the USL1, FC Tucson hosts an annual preseason Desert Showcase where they host MLS squads and USL1 teams for practice before the regular season from late January to late February. For the 2022 Desert Showcase, the Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders FC, Sporting Kansas City, the Colorado Rapids, and Houston Dynamo FC of the MLS are coming down while Louisville City FC, El Paso Locomotive FC, Oakland Roots SC, and FC Tulsa of the USL Championship come down.
Due to playing at the Kino Sports Complex, getting to the games can be a little tricky. Public busses do have routes there but a map of the Complex is worth having handy to find the stadium due to the multiple sports buildings on the site. Just like the Roadrunners, tickets can be purchased for a single game for around $20 or less with some concessions options and parking.
League: Pecos League
Arena: Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium (11,500)
Started Play: 2016
Season Length: June to July
The Saguaros play in the independent Pecos League, which means they are completely unaffiliated with Major League Baseball (MLB) and its Minor League Baseball (MiLB) farm system. All teams within are operated by themselves and host players who might be playing for another shot or just as a second job. With this in mind, don’t go in expecting to see the next Bryce Harper, but go in knowing that despite the independent affiliation, the Saguaros are a very good ballclub. They have won the Pecos League Championship three times, in 2016, 2020, and just last year, 2021. To date, the Saguaros have never posted a losing season, the closest being an even 30-30 season in 2019. The team also claims one league pitcher of the year and two offensive players of the year.
Alongside their regular-season efforts, the Saguaros rotate duties to host the Arizona Pro Showcase tryout camp in order to give more players a shot at getting time on Pioneer Baseball League teams, which could potentially lead to moving up a major league farm system.
Due to their status as an independent club, the team has moved arenas a handful of times, currently settled back in at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium. As such, the same pointers for FC Tucson are in place for getting to the stadium. I would also be wary that concessions may be inconsistent due to the lower funding. If you’re looking for a bargain, however, tickets start out at only $10. This season the team also plans to play a handful of games in Nogales, so if you can make the trip, it might be added fun.
In the end, however, if you’re a baseball fan and want to catch some good baseball, the Saguaros are the way to go. Supporting local clubs like this is where it really counts cause that money is going to the team and what they put on the field.
Tucson Sugar Skulls
Sport: Men’s indoor American football
League: Indoor Football League (IFL)
Arena: Tucson Convention Center Arena (8,962)
Started Play: 2019
Season Length: Late March to Mid-July
The newest professional team in the city, the Sugar Skulls play spring American football indoors in order to (correctly) avoid the ever-increasing temperatures outside. Since they share the Tucson Arena with the Roadrunners, the ice is removed and versatile turf is installed. Being indoor football, some rules are the same, but the only out-of-bounds play is when a pass is airmailed into the crowd (which can be right up against the field walls).
As they do play in the Tucson Arena, the pointers mentioned for the Roadrunners apply here but do know concessions may differ. Tickets can run from $20-$60 for most games, but again, most seats in the Arena provide good sightlines, though those closer up will definitely run you a higher price.
In the two seasons they’ve played (the 2020 season was canceled), the Sugar Skulls have been mediocre, going 7-7 in 2019 and 6-8 last year in 2021. In 2019, however, their record was enough to make it to the playoffs where they were knocked out in the first round in a 50-47 shootout against the Sioux Falls Storm. Despite this, the Sugar Skulls are a team with a lot of upside in the future to come and are worth a watch for football fans waiting for the National Football League season or Wildcat football (maybe less on the latter).
With that, this quick guide on Tucson professional sports concludes. As always, check the team websites for additional information and up-to-date ticket costs as needed. Play ball.