The Arizona Wildcats football team is about to play its first non-bowl, non-Territorial Cup game in the Valley in 60 years when it faces the BYU Cougars in the Cactus Kickoff Classic on Saturday night at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.
It's all part of UA athletic director Greg Byrne's strategy to help the Wildcats continue to grow a following in the Phoenix area, which has always been a Sun Devil stronghold.
"(Phoenix is) the largest city in the state, and from a recruiting standpoint, from a general student body standpoint, from just a connectivity standpoint with the alums and everything, it would be irresponsible if we weren’t up in this marketplace," Byrne told ABC15 on Wednesday.
The Sun Devils are still the kings of the Valley, but the Wildcats enjoy a strong presence in Maricopa County, as nearly 50,000 UA alumni call the Phoenix area home.
Byrne said that presence is reflected in the red and blue seen in the stands when the Wildcats face the Sun Devils in Tempe in a number of sports -- especially when the men's basketball team comes to town each year.
"We’ve been known to have a good crowd in Tempe, and we’re proud of that, and that’s something we just want to continue to grow," he said. "Having a football game here against BYU with their good following, too, made a lot of sense."
The Wildcats, however, have been trailing BYU in ticket sales leading up to the Saturday's game. Byrne said this isn't a complete surprise considering the large number of Cougar alumni and fans who call the Phoenix area home.
Still, Byrne has implored Wildcat fans to help close that ticket gap -- and he said fans have responded in recent weeks.
"There was a pretty good gap, and now the gap’s pretty small. We’re optimistic with the Arizona fans that they’ll continue to buy this week," he said.
"Even just (Tuesday) night at home, I had one of our better donors text me and say, 'Hey, I can go now. I need six tickets.' I think there’s a lot of that going on in what’s taking place in the last minute, that we’ll be selling some more tickets, and we’ll have a good crowd."
Saturday night's game in Glendale. appears to be a tossup. A Wildcat win would certainly help Byrne's mission to enhance UA's presence in Sun Devil territory.
"We really have been putting an emphasis on the Phoenix area, on the Valley," he said. "It’s something we have done and will continue to do."