Sweet Home Chicago! When most people think of Chicago sports they instantly think of the Cubs, White Sox, Bears, Bulls, etc...
But there are some hidden dark secrets about sports in Chicago. Over the city's history, there have been five teams who got mainstream exposure but succumbed to ultimate failure after their inaugural seasons. They got mainstream exposure for the following reasons:
1. They had local media coverage.
2. They had national media coverage.
3. Some of these teams found success in just one season.
4. Some of these teams were lucky enough to have star athletes on their rosters.
5. They played at major venues.
Now you would think that having all of these advantages would help guide these teams into long term success. Unfortunately these teams ceased to exist after one lousy season due to reasons such as financial issues, stiff competition, and lack of fan support.
But they will forever remain in the Windy City's long history of athletic competition. Now, let us take a trip down memory lane.
The Express are the most recent "one hit wonder" in Chicago sports. They played in the well-respected East Coast Hockey League. Their partner teams were the AHL's Springfield Falcons and the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets.
I covered a handful of Express games last season. They were competitive and only missed the ECHL playoffs by one game. They were talented, they had a state-of-the-art arena, and they had solid coaching. What they didn't have: Butts in the seats.
Despite the team's minor successes, they had a terrible marketing department. They did not have any radio or television coverage; they did not air any commercials, and they didn't even have as much as newspaper advertising.
The only advertising I ever saw for them consisted of internet banner ads on random websites. You take a dose of that and mix it with an already crowded pro hockey scene (The Blackhawks and Wolves had long established themselves in the area), and the result was that the Express just could not sell tickets.
In a state of the art arena that seats almost 10,000, the express could only muster an average attendance of roughly 2,300. Some nights they couldn't even crack 1,000. The Express wound up spending more money than they were actually taking in.
A week after their final regular season game, Express owner Craig Drecktrah announced the dissolution of the franchise. Now while Mr. Drecktrah never gave an official reason for the team's demise, I can tell from seeing this team in person that the writing was on the wall long before the announcement had been made.
When the WNBA debuted and revolutionized women's basketball in the late 90s, there was already a women's pro league making some noise of it's own. Long before the Chicago Sky took shape, the city of Big Shoulders already had a major pro team in the Chicago Condors. The Condors played in the American Basketball League.
The ABL by default became the arch-rival to the WNBA when the latter made its debut. Former Chicago Bull Craig Hodges and his wife were team executives. Former Chicago Bulls assistant coach Jim Cleamons was the head coach.
Their games were televised on the now-defunct Fox Sports Net Chicago. They had highlight reels on the evening news, and even Chicago's newspapers took notice. Their home arena was the UIC Pavilion and they always drew good attendance numbers.
Now granted the only star player that they ever had was Joanne McCarthy (the younger sister of famed model/actress/playmate Jenny McCarthy). But some Condor players did have opportunities in the WNBA. Despite the fact that they had a losing record in their only season of play, they earned the respect of their male counterparts—the Chicago Bulls.
During the 1998-1999 NBA Lockout, some Bulls players were seen at Condor practices working out with the team. While it seemed like the Condors were starting something special, it all came crashing down on December 22nd 1998.
That's when the ABL announced it had filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy, thus disbanding all of its member teams. It's been said that rise of the WNBA played a part in the league's demise.
The Skyliners were your typical upstart minor league franchise.
They played in a newly-formed league (the 21st century version of the American Basketball Association). They played on the outskirts of a major city (Rosemont, Illinois). And they had some money to spend. Boy, did they spend it.
In their only season of existence they managed to play their home games at the world-famous Allstate Arena.
They held open tryouts hoping to attract undiscovered talent. And they also signed a seasoned veteran to mix with the talent and the build the team around—Farragut High School legend Ronnie Fields, who became the Skyliners' star player.
Fields grew up with dreams of being a Chicago Bull but things did not go according to plan. Some legal issues in high school hurt his chances of playing Division 1 college basketball. After touring the CBA for a few years, Fields was signed by the Skyliners to be star he had always dreamed of being.
But Ronnie Fields alone was not enough to bring the team media exposure, and he was not enough to sell tickets. After just one season of play, the Skyliners released Fields and relocated to Las Vegas. They eventually folded in 2007.
When the Arena Football League first began with just four teams in 1986, the Chicago Politicians were one of the AFL's Original Four.
Before the Rush and even before the Chicago Bruisers, Chicago first made its mark on arena football with the Politicians. The AFL's inaugural season was just 4 weeks long, but it set the tone for the next 25 years to come.
The Politicians, just like the other three of the original four, were "test" teams. When the AFL began its second season the Politicians were replaced by the Chicago Bruisers and the rest is history.
The Politicians were not around for very long, but without them the Chicago Rush would not exist today.
The XFL's Chicago Enforcers are number one on this list because they are the most successful team on this list. The XFL was the brainchild of one Vincent Kennedy McMahon, the owner of World Wrestling Entertainment.
And because the WWE poured the majority of the money into that league, the possibilities seemed endless. National television broadcasts every week, local radio coverage, home games at Soldier Field. The Enforcers featured many players who played high school and/or college ball in the Chicagoland area.
Players such as Kevin McDougal and LeShon Johnson, who have Chicago-area roots, were some of the stars on this team. The Enforcers, like most historical Chicago teams, started the season on the losing end but rallied later on to make the playoffs.
I always felt that the Enforcers were a great alternative to the Bears. Plus, the Enforcers began their season two months before the Chicago Rush began their debut season. The thought of three football teams in Chicago was music to my ears.
I thought that the Enforcers could win a championship or two because they had the coaching and the talent. One of my life's regrets is that I never got to attend an Enforcers game. I was in college during the existence of the XFL.
But like all other teams in the XFL, the Enforcers were not taken seriously. Because of the backing from World Wrestling Entertainment, and because of some of the league's rules which seemed to be inspired by the WWE, the XFL was never taken seriously.
After strong TV ratings during the first two weeks, ratings would decline for the remainder of the season. Plus, the league never got the respect it deserved from other media outlets. ESPN and Fox Sports Net refused to air XFL highlights on their programming.
Local television and radio stations didn't bother to cover the teams. And most newspapers would only give a brief box score mention and nothing more.
While the XFL seemed like a great idea in theory, it's association with pro wrestling did the league more harm than good. But I can say this, the Enforcers had one of the strongest fan bases in the short lived XFL.