A packed house greeted me as I walked into the oversized glass front doors of the FanDuel Sportsbook Arizona retail sportsbook at downtown Phoenix’s Footprint Center on Thursday morning.
The few dozen sports fans taking up spots at one of the overstuffed navy-blue chairs or bar-style hightops had their eyes on the myriad of jumbo-sized high definition screens watching the day’s early NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament games.
The facility even has a deal with the Suns, so sportsbook clientele can use the arena’s massive pavilion, its decked-out bar and jumbotron-sized TV’s to watch the day’s basketball action.
On Thursday morning at FanDuel Sportsbook, there was a trio of men wearing matching, Kelly green shirts adorned with bachelor party jargon, a father-son duo sporting Chicago White Sox apparel that St. Patrick himself would approve and a host of other eccentricities.
Copious numbers of staff were around to ensure patrons didn’t have any questions that went unanswered, including the nice guy who offered me a chance at shooting some jumpers on the homecourt of the defending Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns.
It was clear the Footprint Center facility, which opened on the first day of sports betting in Arizona on Sept. 9, was more than ready for its first March Madness.
Arizona Betting Atmosphere Unlike Any Other
Thursday’s capacity crowd and the well-oiled machine that was FanDuel’s customer service team were the result of countless hours of planning, according to Regional Manager Jeff Hoose.
Hoose told BetArizona.com the Footprint Center sportsbook’s staff has planned out the college basketball betting weekend for months, with extra staff on hand — everything from floor staff to customer service personnel, bartenders and servers.
“Today’s very exciting for us. This is one of the days I've looked forward to since we’ve opened,” Hoose said. “We’ve got a real exciting event planned, and a full-day slate of games, so we're very excited.”
Both Hoose and General Manager Noah Kirk said they expected the facility to be packed for each of the tournament’s first- and second-round games Thursday through Sunday.
“Arizona and the United States have wanted this for a long time — a safe, legal way to bet and to be able to be here for the tournament from Day One,” Kirk said. “We're super excited. We're ready to put our best foot forward and let our product shine. I think people want to have a really good time hanging out here today.”
Kirk said FanDuel’s retail staff in Phoenix has spent a long time making sure no element of a day at the sportsbook is overlooked. It should be even crazier at Footprint Center on Friday, as Arizona begins its NCAA Tournament run against Wright State at 4:27 p.m., while the Western Conference-leading Suns play a home game against Chicago at 7 p.m.
“This one, we've been planning it for a long time. We brought in a lot of extra help,” Kirk added. “Obviously, the (NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament) is epic, and being able to go down and shoot on the Suns home court. We have TV’s, reclining seats, and our VIP room. Just the whole experience, man, we build the building up to this, and I think it's going to go off well.”
An Attraction Worth Coming to See
The amount of effort FanDuel staff like Hoose and Kirk put in wasn’t lost on first-time visitors, like Tom and John Oleszczuk.
The father-son combo made their way downtown as part of their trip to the Valley for Chicago White Sox Spring Training, wanting to experience new Arizona sports betting apps — their first visit to a sportsbook outside of the Las Vegas Strip.
Both said they were amazed by how well the facility was operating, given the crowd Thursday.
“We found parking quickly down here and were able to walk right up to the facility without issue,” Tom Oleszczuk said. “We’ve only been here for a short while, but it’s a real fun environment for sure. It’s a cool place to come and watch some games.”
They planned on making their way back to the facility before leaving the area, speaking to the work FanDuel’s staff put in to make Thursday’s events go off without a hitch.
Hearing positive feedback from customers like Tom and John is all in a day’s work for Kirk, who laid out the reasons why Arizonans should head downtown for the opening weekend of the Big Dance.
Kirk said they expect a full house throughout the weekend, but the atmosphere inside the Footprint Center facility will be unlike anything customers have experienced anywhere else.
“We expect to have a steady flow of people throughout the day. Obviously as the day wears on, people get out of work. Expect to see a lot more people to roll in,” Kirk said. “As you can tell right now, we’ve got a good deal of people. We’ve got a radio station here doing a live broadcast. We’ve got the Suns team checking everything out. We’re going to have a DJ, food, and drinks. We’ve got the games playing in the newly remodeled pavilion. So, it's going to be a great day.”