GREG HANSEN

Greg Hansen: Tucson still in game if sports leaders act to update facilities for new teams, fans

2012-02-14T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: Tucson still in game if sports leaders act to update facilities for new teams, fansGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 14, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Since it turned 50 in 1962, Arizona has added NFL, NBA, NHL and major-league baseball franchises. It has played host to multiple Super Bowls, national championship college football games, become a regular on the NASCAR circuit and grown its spring-training market from two to 16 teams.

But that growth is almost exclusive to the greater Phoenix area. Tucson in 2012 remains much like Tucson in 1962.

We've gained a Class AAA baseball franchise but lost spring training baseball. We've watched as McKale Center, which opened in 1973, has become a haven for some of the best college basketball in America. But we've also watched as the downtown Tucson arena has become dated and more of a place to avoid than to watch sports events, or to attract athletics tenants.

As a sports market, Tucson in 2012 is about where Phoenix was in 1962.

Over the next 50 years, it's conceivable that Tucson will get its first major sports franchise, a Major League Soccer team.

If anything, Tucson is developing into a soccer city, first at the grassroots level, and in club and high school soccer, and now as a spring training home for MLS teams. The next step is to find the leadership and financing to build a 20,000-seat stadium, preferably downtown, that will attract the MLS and be to Tucson what the Phoenix Suns were to Phoenix in the late 1960s.

But mostly, Tucson will remain a college town, one of the largest of its kind, building on its success in the Pac-10 years. Fifty years ago, the UA and ASU both were awakening from the small-school Border Conference. They had not won an NCAA championship between them. Now, after a half-century of dynamic growth, they've won a combined 39 NCAA titles.

By 2062, Tucson's three largest sports facilities - McKale Center, Arizona Stadium and the Tucson arena - will surely need to be replaced. The challenge for local sports leaders is to act timely and decisively to avoid the indecision that led to the demise of spring training baseball in Tucson.

In the last 50 years, Phoenix hit it out of the park as a productive and relevant sports city. Tucson swung and missed.

Dig in. The game isn't over yet.

Greg Hansen moved to Tucson in 1981 to work for the Star. He's a Utah native.

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