Phoenix Mercury kicks off 20th season, works to draw young fans

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The WNBA Phoenix Mercury’s home opener is Friday, May 20. The Mercury and the WNBA are celebrating their 20th season.

If you need an “assist” keeping the kids busy this summer, the Phoenix Mercury is ready to help.

The WNBA team’s lineup, with a home opener on Friday, May 20, will include lots of things for the youngest fans to do both on and off the court.

Vince Kozar, the team’s vice president of business operations, says a Mercury game makes for a great family outing. “I think a two-hour basketball game with entertainment during time-outs, music all the time and other options is ideal,” he says.

With tickets starting at $9 in the lower levels, Kozar contends, “Our ticket prices are the most affordable of any professional sports team in the Valley. And this year we’ve introduced All You Can Eat Seats, which include unlimited hot dogs, popcorn, nachos and soda for 20 bucks.”

The three-time WNBA Champion team’s philosophy is to grow fans through contact. The Mercury’s co-ed Hip Hop Squad makes a grand entrance, dancing and greeting adults and children as they arrive and stopping to take pictures with fans. The squad also gives out back-court passes that allow young fans to meet two players after the game and get autographs.

PHOENIX, AZ - SEPTEMBER 27: Minnesota Lynx vs Phoenix Mercury during the WNBA Playoffs West Conference Finals Game 2 on September 27, 2015 at the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)
The Phoenix Mercury’s Hip Hop Squad in action. Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images.

That attention to kids doesn’t stop there. Before the games, there’s a free sign-making station for children. During the game, the COURTyard is a favorite spot to stop and have some fun. Young fans can play corn hole, foosball and ping pong and take pictures with Mercury player cutouts.  It’s also a great spot to see the players as they run through a fan tunnel to enter and exit the court.

Kozar says one of his favorite activities during games is the “Train,” which gives kids a chance to get down on the court and dance with the Hip Hop Squad during some time-outs.

Contests also keep the momentum going during the game, and the team’s mascot, Scorch, helps entertain and interact with fans.  Post-game, children ages 16 and under are invited to shoot free throws on the Mercury Court.

Several special events aimed at young fans are on this year’s roster, including Dad’s and Daughter’s night on Sunday, June 12. The Mercury Matinee, on Wednesday, July 13, is part of a league-wide event. The mid-week, daytime game is especially popular with summer camps and young fans who come with friends and family.

“It’s literally 9,000 or 10,000 kids, and the volume and the pitch of that noise is like nothing you’ve ever heard,” Kozar says.

PHOENIX, AZ - SEPTEMBER 27: Minnesota Lynx vs Phoenix Mercury during the WNBA Playoffs West Conference Finals Game 2 on September 27, 2015 at the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)
Brittney Griner (left) high-fives Phoenix Mercury fans. Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images.

The Woman of Inspiration, set for Sunday, Aug. 28 this year, rounds out the summer series and is when the team recognizes a woman in the female sports community who has broken down barriers and is an inspiration for fans of all ages. Last year, the team recognized Mo’ne Davis, the first girl to win and pitch a shutout in the Little League World Series. The audience is able to submit questions, and some will be answered by the recipient during halftime.

Of course, a big draw this year is the fact that the 2014 WNBA Champion Phoenix Mercury players are reunited, with starters Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor (both sat out last season), DeWanna Bonner, Brittney Griner and Candice Dupree. Both the Mercury and the WNBA are celebrating their 20th season, and the Mercury leads the league in fan attendance, netting nearly 10,000 fans per game.

If you need any proof the team is growing its young fan base, you probably don’t need to look any further than one of the team’s youngest boosters: Olivia Wright. This 5-year-old from Phoenix has a devotion to all things Mercury. Proof positive, the family’s Mercury-inspired Christmas Card. When the team realized Olivia’s devotion, they arranged for Olivia to spend some time with her hero: Griner.

Olivia’s mom, Stacey, says the experience for her daughter has been fantastic. “One hundred percent truthfully, I don’t think my husband and I would be such big fans if they didn’t cater to the kids,” she says. “It’s important when you have young children for them to be in a fun environment, and also a safe environment. You can feel the comaraderie … it’s one big family. It’s really been enjoyable for the last two years to just learn about that and be a part of that.”

If you go: Talking Stick Resort Arena, 201 E. Jefferson St., Phoenix. $9 and up. phoenixmercury.com. Ticketholders (carrying their tickets) can ride Metro light rail free four hours prior to the game to the end of the transit day.

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