PHOENIX – After rebranding from Arizona United SC for the 2017 season, the Phoenix Rising organization brainstormed opportunities to engage fans and the local community.
But lost in the team’s grand rebrand – a new team name, logo and stadium was introduced – is the Pub 2 Pitch Shuttle, which debuted in 2018 and offers a free shuttle to take fans from local bars to home games and back after the final whistle.
The idea came to fruition after fans urged the team for increased interaction, said Rising partnerships coordinator Jessica Newton, and the organization obliged.
“What we heard from the fans is they want more interaction and more engagement with the fanbase,” Newton said. “That’s kind of why we started the program, to set ourselves apart from the Cardinals and Suns by engaging our fans in that way.”
With three games left, including two at home, the Rising will be grateful for the support. After a 1-0 victory Wednesday at Sacramento Republic FC, the Rising’s slim playoff hopes remain alive. They face the New York Red Bulls II at home Saturday.
The Pub 2 Pitch program has eight partner bars located in Phoenix, Chandler, Gilbert, Scottsdale and Tempe. The participating venues include The Churchill, Z’Tejas, Vero’s Chicago Pizza, Thirsty Lion Gastropub, R.T. O’Sullivan’s Sports Grill, Four Peaks Brewing Company, Wicked Brewers and Vine Elliot. Busses leave Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex at Wild Horse Pass 15 minutes after the final whistle.
In the future, the Rising will likely need more than three designated shuttles to escort fans.
“We hear the fans that want to expand more up north and in the West Valley,” Newton said. “The plan for this program is to absolutely expand.”
John Pena, a Rising fan from Glendale, has always enjoyed the free service but admits that more locations on his side of the Valley would be beneficial to many Rising fans.
“It’s always been a good time, the people are in good spirits and it’s kind of lively,” Pena said. “I think they could improve it with more locations and branch out further into the Valley.”
Rising season-ticket holder David Rosas started riding the shuttle this season and echoes Pena’s impression of the “lively” fan atmosphere.
“People are having fun, they’ve probably had one too many drinks already,” Rosas said. “It’s pretty much a good party atmosphere. Sometimes we get some chants going on the way home.”
Helping transport fans who have been drinking is a welcome sight for those aware of a big jump in soccer holliganism overseas recently. Although it has not been an issue in the United States, Europe has seen a large post-pandemic leap. GOV.UK released a study Sept. 22 that showed soccer-related arrests were at their highest in England and Wales since the 2013-14 season.
For Rosas and others, the biggest perk of the program is the convenience. Given the travel time to attend a game, no available public transportation and postgame traffic, the Pub 2 Pitch shuttle serves as the perfect alternative to driving. Parking is free, but the toll to drive after an hours-long game can be too high.
“Usually we would drive out there and drive home,” Rosas said. “It’s very convenient because you don’t have to park.”
Fans will have two more opportunities to experience the shuttle, starting Saturday when the Rising host the New York Red Bulls, and on Oct. 15, when Atlanta United travels to Phoenix for the regular-season finale.