The Growing Venue Problem in Chicago
Chicago is the third largest city in the United States. Simple, right? We should have venues that provide that big-market capacity to boast our teams, and revenues. But we don’t, and the numbers are quite surprising. America’s #1 sport, Football, and #1 professional sport, the NFL, cater to the smallest capacity in the entire NFL. Can there be a correlation to why the Bears fall short and have the least incentive to spend money on big players, when naturally, they have a major disadvantage when it comes to making a profit?
Let’s look at the list of most recent data on all of the established professional sporting events in Chicago, along with a few lesser events that share venues.
Home to the Chicago Rush (AFL), The Chicago Sky (WNBA), and the Chicago Wolves (AHL – Vancouver Canucks affiliate).
The Arena’s capacity is between 16,200 and 17,5000, depending on the event. The Rush sell the most tickets on average, approximately 8,700 a game, the Sky sell 8,200 and the Wolves sell 7,200 on average. So approximately half of the venue is put to use on any given event. Aside from each event being second rate to traditional sports fans, Rosemont isn’t exactly in a perfect location, catering to only a part of the Chicago metro area, unless you consider a 2-3 hour drive reasonable for minor league hockey and *insert your favorite overused critique of women’s basketball here*. While the venue isn’t ideal, it still hosts it’s main tenant, the DePaul Blue Demons, who also have seen little success as a top tier NCAA basketball team in recent years.
Is there room to improve? Certainly. Is the old Horizon high on the list of priorities? Not really, but some changes overall, could make pro sports a heck of a lot better in Chicago. The sad part is, I wonder how many of these tickets to Rush, Sky and Wolves games are given away to reach the audiences that they see? I have no problem with promotions, but if the teams can’t generate revenue, they are also causing a bigger problem for their respective leagues, and then is it worth seeing to begin with, other than settling for nothing else?
Home to the Chicago Bulls (NBA) and the Chicago Blackhawks (NHL).
This venue should be the pride and joy of Chicago. Recently hosting more championships than any other stadium in the area. The United Center boasts a capacity of 19,700-21,000 but ticket sales are always at or above seating. The Bulls average attendance has been around 21,800 and the Blackhawks at 21,400. The venue is a reasonable trip from most places, closer to the east(lake) than the center, to reach an optimal location, but it is still among the best in both leagues for metro travels.
The Bulls maintain the NBA’s #1 attendance, giving them the ability to be one of the leagues few profitable teams, even in an era where mismanagement and bad spending has gone viral like a video with babies and cats on youtube. However, when a team exceeds it’s capacity is the norm, and often hosts playoff games and other exhibition/concerts galore, it’s time to see just how much better the Bulls and Blackhawks can do in a venue that can possibly seat a considerable amount more, and become far more desirable to host special events, like All-Star weekends and all of the indoor concerts that aren’t feasible to do on an outdoor field in the middle of January.
Home of the Chicago Fire (MLS) and the Chicago Bliss (LFL).
Similar to the Allstate Arena, Toyota Park is a good 2-3 hour drive for most of the metropolitan area, it is just on the opposite side. Although I would say Toyota Park is closer to the west than the lake. The capacity is larger than the United Center by a hair, and it is limited to outdoor events. At 22,000 in capacity, the Fire usually do a respectable job of selling tickets, bringing in 14,000 fans on average(even now, when they are fighting for the worst record in MLS.) The Bliss pull in close to 10,000 on average.
While the Horizon is indoors and hosts bigger names, the venue and it’s location makes all of the difference. But then again, why pay to see Football, Hockey, or Basketball, when you can go see fit and sexy models throw a pigskin while wearing next to nothing [in critique of how the Bliss fill more seats than any pro sport at the better known and more established Allstate Arena]
Can this be improved? When the teams aren’t selling out games, it’s hard to say. But I do have a big point to make, and that is coming later in this article.
Home to the Chicago White Sox (MLB – AL)
Baseball, baseball baseball. All of the historic aspects of both the game and the ground it is played on. The actual park and the game are like a stubborn marriage of sorts. For better or for worse, the game in Chicago was meant to be played in venues that must resemble it’s history. For better or for worse, the venues must be played outdoors, in one of the most unpredictable weather locations on the globe. For better or for worse, one must be on the south and the other on the north.For better or for worse, you must require fans from allover to drive through a former housing project kingdom and hope for the best, just to see the good guys wear black.
I love traditions, so don’t get me wrong, but this arrangement at the Cell is perhaps the worst of them all. The park boasts a capacity of 41,500 yet, the White Sox average attendance is near half of that, at 25,500. I’m not in favor of reducing the venue’s size, but I want to increase the scope of fans that actually go see the games. Yes, we can jump on the fire Ozzie bandwagon, kill Kenny, or whatever phrase is going around now. But that solution wont fix what is going on with this beautiful park. It’s not only a problem with Comiskey, but it’s also a problem with….
Home to the Chicago Cubs (MLB – NL)
You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Damned if you replace it with a state-of-the art venue, damned if you keep the longest World Series drought alive. The Cubs are doing considerably worse than the White Sox, yet, somehow this venue is carrying the team. The capacity is just a hair higher than the Cell, at 42,300 and the Cubs manage to average 37,000 in attendance. The only way to improve the overall situation here, would be a drastic, drastic change in how we watch baseball in person. I have said it before on the forums, and I believe it is time. We need a dome in Chicago. Who builds one first? The Sox, Cubs, or Bears? Well naturally, Wrigley’s upkeep will one day reach a point, where it is absolutely unmaintainable in it’s current state without an epic renovation that may change the feel of the place completely, ala Space-ship Field, err, Soldier Field. If anyone gets a dome first, I would think it’s suiting for the Cubs. After all, they have the fanbase, they sell the tickets, they have the bars, and they have the most to gain by blowing the doors off the standards in baseball venues throughout this league. Not only that, we will be able to host indoor events in Chicago at a stadium larger than 22,000 in capacity. Bowl games, the Superbowl, all-star games, concerts, beer drinking world championships. Whatever you can come up with. The only issue would be the location. But with an above average attendance for a team competing for rock bottom tells me that location is far from the problem.
Home to the Chicago Bears (NFL).
I host eight regular season games a year. Of those eight games, two of them have little or no issues with the ground keeping. My team skips out in free agency every year, and I am the smallest pro football venue in the world, aside from the Hall of Fame. I was recently renovated and that made some things worse, while putting an expensive band-aid patch on the rest of the problems. I am, Soldier Field.
Okay, that’s a bit harsh, but it’s all true. The venue has a capacity of 61,500, and the Bears squeeze in 62,200 on average. It sees an average of 10.2 NFL games a year in total(pre-season and post). I love Soldier Field, old and new, so don’t get me wrong. But this is a serious problem. It’s too small to ever host a Superbowl, it’s far to historical to be replaced. However, if we can swallow our loyalty to an eyesore of a venue, and welcome something new(such as going from the Chicago Stadium to the United Center), we can truly be competitive as an NFL team, allow more people to see the games, and go from being dead last, to flexing our “third largest city’s” muscles again. Much like what I said about Wrigley being a prime candidate for a dome, so would the Bear’s next venue. In fact, I believe this should be competing with the nation, for the largest stadium, if not the world. The tickets would sell, the city would benefit, and if you could not profit on having such a marvel, something has to be terribly wrong. Chicago would draw the biggest and best of everything in the entertainment business.
A few years ago, now former Mayor, Richard Daley, made Chicago’s best attempts at bringing the Summer Olympics over to Chicago. Aside from a few Olympic games that were in the middle of a major crisis, every host city has made extraordinary profit and reaped major benefits from having the games near and dear. Now, I will come right out and say that after much thought, I personally think Chicago would have lost money because of the internal contracts and economics that currently cause similar problems to such a magnitude of events in the state and major metropolitan area. However, we may have been able to come out on top in the long run. The extra finances that would come in, would help us improve the venue situation here(assuming it would be done with limited conflict). That whole argument of woulda, coulda shoulda, is all in the past. But if anything, we need to learn from it. We have to recognize that the most peaceful event to come out of North Korea, is a major annual event that welcomes people from all over the world to witness. We need to recognize that more kids should see major games, and not just the rich and lucky ones. We should recognize that increased revenues, results in an improved team and atmosphere for your favorite players.
Chicago has been slowly falling from matching our #3 city size to the teams that represent us. It’s time for the debate to start on how we become the best once again, and we no longer require draft-day luck to save our city.