Arena football is coming to Tucson.
On Tuesday, the Rio Nuevo board unanimously approved spending $400,000 for equipment needed to convert the Tucson Convention Center’s arena into an indoor football stadium. Tucson’s new arena football team will begin playing next spring, hosting seven home games.
Arizona Rattlers coach and general manager Kevin Guy is spearheading Tucson’s expansion efforts. He has not yet signed a least with the city, and it remains unclear which league Tucson will play in, what the team’s name will be or whether the move will affect the Rattlers or Guy’s position with the club. The Rattlers currently play in the Indoor Football League after competing for decades in the Arena Football League; a third league, Champions Indoor Football, has teams in Albuquerque and throughout Texas.
The league is immaterial, said Rio Nuevo Chairman Fletcher McCusker.
“Doesn’t matter to us,” McCusker said. Guy “is going to fill those seats. Had it been anybody else, we might be a little worried. … Kevin said he was blown away by the time he saw the arena.”
Guy has been involved with arena football for 23 years as a player, assistant coach, head coach and general manager. He is 128-45 as a head coach and has won three Arena Bowls and one United Bowl.
Guy, 45, “made it real clear that this is his team,” McCusker said.
Guy said he expects to announce more details soon.
Rio Nuevo first brought pro sports to Tucson two summers ago, when it agreed to foot the nearly $4 million price tag to renovate the Tucson Arena for pro hockey. The promise from the board led the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes to buy the Springfield, Massachusetts, minor-league team and move it to Tucson.
Tucson’s AHL team, rechristened the Roadrunners, serves as the Coyotes’ top minor-league affiliate. It made its first playoff appearance last season.
The $400,000 allocated for arena football will be used for a turf field, goalposts and locker room improvements. Otherwise, McCusker said, the arena is ready for a new tenant. Arena football and hockey are played on the same dimensions, and the conversion from ice to turf is typically simple.
Arena football features eight players on the field from each team, a smaller field and more scoring than in the NFL.
Guy said Tuesday that his teams are always involved in the community, and that he looks forward to doing the same in Tucson. Guy said he is confident he can pack the arena with crowds both for the games and pre- and post-game activities.
If a football goes into the crowd, fans get to keep it, Guy said. But, he added, if a player goes into the crowd, “he must be returned.”