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Arena football team is rattling the Arizona sports market

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The defending ArenaBowl champion Arizona Rattlers will raise their league-best fifth championship banner when they open the season on Saturday at US Airways Center against the Spokane Shock.

Last season the team drew its most fans since 2010, averaging 9,335 at home. Team officials say their wallet-friendly efforts are key to building on that growth in 2015.

“I think a lot of it has to do with affordability,” said Chris Presson, Rattlers team president. “We are an affordable family-fun, we have tickets for as low as $10, and I think that also helps. Not everybody can afford to pay a higher price, buy the parking and concessions. We pride ourselves in offering something more minimal but providing the same level of entertainment.”

The Rattlers also stay engaged with the community.

“We’re involved, no question about that, whether it’s eco-friendly or children’s hospitals,” said Ron Shurts, Rattlers owner. “We won the Arena Football League award for most charitable events and for being the best community service team.”

In December 2014, Shurts donated 110,000 cans of food to the KNIX Million Can Crusade, according to a team news release. The organization has also made donations to St. Vincent de Paul and the Salvation Army and participated in more than 100 community events throughout 2014.

Presson said the Rattlers and the rest of the league are doing what they can to maximize the fan experience and help grow the sport.

“We have some teams that are in rebuilding mode, and the league as a whole is looking to expand in the right markets, at the right time, in the right way,” Presson said.

Over the last few years, the league has added franchises in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Portland, following a down time in which the 2009 season was canceled in order to improve the league’s business plan.

With more teams comes greater competition and parity.

“I think all we can do is to continue the culture (head coach) Kevin (Guy) and Ron have established,” Presson said.

To keep the winning culture going, head coach and general manager Kevin Guy is taking an unorthodox route in building the team’s roster. While most arena teams recruit players from within arena football, Guy is discovering treasures among other’s junk.

“We recruit the guys who get cut from the NFL, but at the same time we have our own little game, but it’s still blocking, it’s still tackling, it’s still football,” Guy said.

“The majority of guys we have brought in had not been a part of arena football,” Shurts said. “We actually went outside and got free agents, guys who were playing in the NFL and didn’t make it in the NFL.”

Wide receiver Rod Windsor is a product of Guy’s vision. Windsor was a member of the Rattlers during the NFL lockout in 2010 but left to play for the Cleveland Browns shortly after. Windsor was cut in 2012 and returned to Arizona. In 2013, Windsor posted 10 receptions for 145 yards in ArenaBowl XXVI, earning MVP honors.

While a fourth straight title would be unprecedented in the AFL, the Rattlers say the pressure of the pursuit does not compare to the pressure the team faced before the title that began the streak in 2012.

“I think when you’ve accomplished three in a row I think you’ve gone beyond possibility,” Shurts said. “I think the very first year when we lost on the last play of the game in 2011, I thought there was a lot of pressure to come back and redeem ourselves, because the last thing you want to do is turn into the Buffalo Bills and lose four in a row.”