Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Chicago’s market size, facilities make city an attractive locale

Any professional sports league would be very pleased to have Chicago, Illinois, as a home to one of its franchises. With its status as the third-largest television market in the United States and its many potential facilities, Chicago is attractive, indeed.

The Windy City has had two prior spring outdoor alternative professional football league teams – the United States Football League’s Chicago Blitz (1983-84) and the XFL’s Chicago Enforcers (2001). Both franchises had extenuating circumstances holding them back in the way of attendance.

The Blitz were expected to dominate the USFL’s first season of 1983, but, while they made the playoffs, they bowed out in the semifinals. The domination didn’t translate to the stands, either, where 18,090 fans on average came to Soldier Field. Then, in a bizarre trading of franchises, the 1983 Arizona Wranglers became the 1984 Blitz. Clearly, the Chicago football fans weren’t pleased with being stuck with a lesser team, and the result was the worst single-season average home attendance in league history (7,455).

Strangely, the Enforcers finished last in the XFL in average home attendance (15,710), but first in average road attendance (27,409). The problem was the team didn’t have a home game until Week 4, after it started the season 0-3.

Both the Blitz and the Enforcers called Soldier Field their home. The venerable stadium, originally named Municipal Grant Park Stadium when it opened in 1924, had a renovation completed in 2003. The home of the National Football League’s Chicago Bears can seat 61,500.

Another nearby stadium which would fit the bill capacity-wise is Ryan Field, a half-hour drive away from Chicago in Evanston. The home of the Northwestern University football team, Ryan Field, holds more than 47,000, but a couple of obstacles exist to play there. It's located in a residential area and NU would have to approve the lease.

A smaller-but-more-modern venue is Toyota Park, the nearly 22,000-seat home of Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire. Toyota Park opened just seven years ago.

Of course, if a new football league wanted to think “outside the box” in Chi-town, it could try to play its games in either ancient Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs’ home park and a venue which hasn’t had a football tenant since the Bears more than four decades ago, or U.S. Cellular Field, the Chicago White Sox’ home and a venue which never has had a football tenant in its 22 years of existence.

BOTTOM LINE – Chicago-based spring outdoor alternative pro football league teams have been somewhat snake-bitten by various circumstances when it comes to support. Going forward, there would be the end of both the National Hockey League’s Blackhawks and National Basketball Association’s Bulls seasons to contend with, as well as the beginning of the seasons for the Cubs and White Sox.

In the fall, Chicago-area football fans come out in droves (home averages of 62,034; 62,250; 62,195; 62,145; and 62,329 for the Bears in the last five seasons). It’s not impossible to believe that a new Chicago-based spring outdoor alternative pro football league team could earn attendance numbers closer to the Bears than that of either the Blitz or the Enforcers.

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