No. 9 Best City to Be a Sports Fan: Chicago
How much does where you live matter as a sports fan? The short answer is: It depends.
If you're an Alabama football fan, there's no better place to live than Tuscaloosa. If you're a Boston Red Sox fan, there's no worse place to live than New York City.
But what if you were a free agent, so to speak? What if you loved sports but didn't have a specific affiliation to any team?
Say you're moving to a new city. Which metropolis would have the most to offer you as a sports fan? Which would give you the best overall experience?
That is what we're here to find out. We took 25 of the best writers from Bleacher Report and beyond to objectively look at their cities and come up with a ranking. To get a better understanding of the categories and grading criteria, click here.
Chicago comes in at No. 9.
The Windy City is packed with seemingly limitless entertainment options. Luckily for sports fans, many of those events revolve around athletic competition.
Chicago’s plethora of sports teams, Midwestern charm and rich history make it a great place to be a fan.
Then again, the Cubs haven’t won a World Series in over a century...so there’s that.
Just how does Chicago stack up against other cities in terms of the overall sports experience?
Number of Teams/Events: 20/20
Chicago is tough to beat when it comes to sheer numbers. The Windy City has men’s professional teams in all of the four major sports—the Cubs and White Sox in baseball, the Bears in football, the Blackhawks in hockey and the Bulls in basketball.
In addition, Chicago also has an MLS team (the Fire) and a couple of women’s professional teams, the Sky (basketball) and Red Stars (soccer).
If college sports are more your scene, the Chicago area has six Division I athletic programs and four within city limits. DePaul, Loyola, Chicago State and UIC all play games in the city itself, while Northwestern and Northern Illinois are close by as well.
And if you’re into the less expensive, family-oriented atmosphere that minor league sports provide, Chicago has you covered there too. Teams exist in a variety of sports such as baseball, hockey, arena football and even Ultimate Frisbee and roller derby.
Northwestern calls itself “Chicago’s Big Ten Team,” but in reality Chicago is crawling with alumni from all over the Big Ten. The conference basketball tournament was held at the United Center in 2013 and will be back again in 2015.
If NASCAR is your sport of choice, then the Chicagoland Speedway in nearby Joliet (OK—Joliet is an hour drive, but still) is worth a trip. The track hosts a Sprint Cup Series race each year in September.
Bonus facts: USA Soccer is headquartered in Chicago, and the federation recently hosted some epic World Cup viewing parties. Also, Roger Goodell is considering Chicago for the 2015 NFL draft, which would be pretty boss.
Success of Teams in Last 5 Years: 10/20
If you had just moved to Chicago, you’d probably be most excited about the Blackhawks. Stanley Cup champions in 2010 and 2013, Chicago hockey is back in full force. After another trip to the conference final in 2014 and the signing of both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to eight-year extensions, the future looks bright.
The Bears and the Bulls have both had some success in recent years but not enough to quite get over the hump. Since losing Super Bowl XLI to the Colts in 2007, the Bears have been back to the playoffs just once and finished the 2013 regular season at .500.
The Bulls haven’t won a ring since the Michael Jordan era, but since Derrick Rose’s arrival in 2008, the team has made the playoffs every year. If only those pesky knee injuries would subside...
Baseball is another story. The White Sox won the World Series in 2005 but have only been back to the postseason once since (a division-series loss to Tampa Bay in 2008). And the Cubs...well, they don’t call them The Lovable Losers for nothing.
Northwestern is probably the Chicago-area university with the biggest following, but that’s not saying much. The men’s basketball team has never made it to the Big Dance. And after it appeared that head coach Pat Fitzgerald had finally resurrected the football team, the ‘Cats suffered a soul-crushing season in 2013. After a near win at home against Ohio State, the Wildcats proceeded to drop the next six (!) conference games and finished the season 5-7 overall.
If you're a fan of women’s lacrosse, though, you’re in the right place: Those girls have won seven national championships in the last nine years.
Overall, Chicago’s stadiums provide a good combination of history and modernity, but accessibility is not quite as ideal as in some other cities (looking at you, Indianapolis).
The baseball stadiums in Chicago are basically two exact opposites connected by the same train line.
Wrigley Field is, of course, one of the most historic stadiums in all of sports. Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, Wrigley Field is the second-oldest MLB stadium, trailing only Fenway Park in Boston. The ivy walls, the old-school scoreboard and the on-field bullpens all truly transport you to another time. Wrigley Field should be on everyone’s sports bucket list.
That being said: Structurally and in terms of logistical fan experience, the place is a dump.
U.S. Cellular Field, on the other hand, is a newer stadium with plenty of modern frills. Easily accessible via the CTA Red Line, the stadium formerly known as the new Comiskey Park opened in 1991, right across the street from the old Comiskey Park.
“The Cell,” as some locals affectionately call it, boasts wider concourses, better restrooms and an absence of the “obstructed view” tickets sold at the Wrigley box office.
Soldier Field is the oldest NFL stadium and stands as a massive historical monument to American soldiers. It’s also apparently the site of a UFO landing—either that or some highly questionable renovation-related aesthetics decisions.
Located downtown along the famed Lake Shore Drive, Soldier Field is relatively accessible via car or public transportation, but not right off a train line like the baseball parks. Besides Bears home games, Soldier Field has also played host to World Cup soccer and outdoor hockey.
Home of the Bulls and Blackhawks, the United Center is located two miles west of the downtown loop. There are public transportation options, but like Soldier Field, these options aren’t always the picture of convenience depending on a spectator's point of origin. Most game attendees drive and park in one of the many massive lots surrounding the arena.
Inside, the United Center is big enough to be comfortable but small enough to feel homey. Built in 1994, it is the newest of the major Chicago stadiums and as such is equipped with modern amenities such as executive suites and a wide array of restaurants and bars.
Fan Passion: 8/10
Chicagoans certainly love their teams, but just like anywhere, bandwagons do exist. And those poor South Siders—they really get no love.
The Bears undoubtedly have the highest number of loyal fans. In good times and bad (and excessive cold), Bears fans are the least likely to jump off the bandwagon. In fact, a 2013 study done by Emory University actually lists Bears fans as the seventh-most loyal among all NFL fanbases, according to NBC 5 Chicago's Marcus Riley.
That’s not to say other Chicago fans aren’t loyal. Since the Blackhawks have had success over the past five years, fans are coming out of the woodwork. There is a small percentage of folks who were there all along—incredibly passionate diehards—but many more have come with success. Bandwagon or not, Chicago fans sure know how to party when things do go right.
Cubs fans aren’t so much passionate about winning (obviously) as they are about Wrigleyville bars and summer baseball. But whether they are there for the game itself or the hot dog-brew combo, fans are still at the games, doggone it.
White Sox fans are nearly nonexistent when the team is not playing well. Unfortunately, this photo is not a joke.
As far as the Bulls are concerned, lately it’s sort of "as Derrick Rose goes, so go the fans." When he’s healthy and active, fans are elated. When he’s out, folks still go to the games (the Bulls led the league in average attendance last season), but not with quite the same fervor.
General Fan Experience: 14/15
Let’s talk about the Cubs. Wrigleyville is about as cool a ballpark neighborhood as there is. One of the main reasons fans come out to games despite the Cubbies’ on-field woes is the hoppin’ bar scene branching outward from Clark and Addison.
Wrigley Field also offers a unique experience courtesy of building owners immediately outside the stadium. Fans can sit in stadium seating atop adjacent buildings instead of going into Wrigley itself. Unfortunately, recently proposed renovation plans have irked the rooftop owners, and the issue is still a source of some controversy.
Conversely, while U.S. Cellular is structurally a nicer ballpark, the bar scene surrounding the field is nonexistent. Fans come, fans go and that’s about it.
Soldier Field has a few bars within walking distance in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood, but as is the case with most NFL stadiums, tailgating is where it’s at.
Northwestern, on the other hand—well, let’s just say if LSU is like the Las Vegas of football tailgating, then Northwestern is like the Evanston, Illinois, version.
Cost-wise, Chicago baseball is relatively cheap to attend (one perk of the teams not doing so hot). Bulls games are doable. Bears games are expensive, but that’s more a symptom of the NFL’s cash-mongering than anything Chicago-specific.
The price on Blackhawks tickets skyrocketed after the team's recent slate of success, so don’t plan to attend a ton of games unless you can also afford to live in a Gold Coast condo. A warning, though: When the whole crowd sings the national anthem at a ’Hawks game, it will give you chills right down your spine.
Obvious fact: Chicago is in the Midwest, and as such it is one of the more laid-back major urban centers in America.
Everyday folk walk around in college hoodies and vintage Blackhawks tees. If you’re not attending a live game, you can saunter into one of hundreds of chill sports bars at any time and likely strike up a good conversation with a friendly Midwestern sports fan. The city is even home to the nation's largest adult recreational sports company by participation in America.
If you’re moving to a new city and sports is your jam, then Chicago is probably one of the best places to use your personal interests to easily meet people. Play in a rec softball league, strike up a barroom conversation about Jay Cutler or just buy a ticket to Wrigley from the box office.
Cubs and White Sox games are always on TV via WGN or Comcast SportsNet (CSN)—so if you have AT&T U-verse, you might be out of luck. Both are also always on the radio. Plus, there is always, always, always a nearby sports bar that has the game on.
The Blackhawks can be seen on WGN, CSN or NBCSN. In the 2013-14 season, the Bulls made 46 regular-season appearances on national television, and CSN and WGN made up the rest for the locals.
And since Bears games always sell out, the NFL hasn’t blacked out one of their games since 1984, so you’re good there. They will be on mainstream networks every time in 2014, save for one Thursday night game that will air on NFL Network.
As far as media personalities go, Michael Wilbon and Mike Greenberg both went to Northwestern. Ken “The Hawk” Harrelson, perhaps the homiest of Chicago homers, is a White Sox announcer famous for his “You can put in on the booooaarrd...yes!” home run cries.
Star Power: 5/10
There are only a few guys who inspire fans to attend games just to see them. Let’s call it the LeBron James Effect. In Chicago, there is one guy like that—Derrick Rose—but unfortunately, he’s had some injury problems over the past couple of years.
Joakim Noah is the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year but still doesn’t have that D-Rose star power.
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are some of the bigger names in hockey right now, but neither player is at the Sidney Crosby fame level just yet.
The Bears have a few B-plus guys on the roster—Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Jared Allen. Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte could be on the rise this coming season, too.
The White Sox boast an All-Star pitcher in Chris Sale (I’d go to a game just to see him pitch, but I’m a baseball junkie) and one of the best young rookies in the game in Jose Abreu.
And the Cubs...well, the poor Cubs. They just traded away their biggest pitcher (Jeff Samardzija) for a bunch of prospects, a move that should make diehard fans hopeful for the future but certainly won’t put any butts in seats this season.
Talking strictly current players (unfortunately, that means MJ excluded), it’s D-Rose or bust in Chi-Town.
We’ve covered the historical significance of Wrigley Field. Not every city has a must-see stadium like the one standing on Chicago’s North Side.
Beyond that, Chicago is a city rich in sports history. The Blackhawks are one of hockey’s Original Six, and the great Bobby Hull remains the franchise’s all-time leading goal scorer.
From Mike Ditka’s ’85 Bears and Walter Payton to Soldier Field’s status as an actual war memorial, the Bears have plenty of material for a history buff.
Besides all that, the greatest basketball player who ever lived won his six rings in Chicago.
Now if only that pesky Black Sox business could be stricken from the record...
Final Tally: 78/100
All in all, Chicago has a lot of easily accessible options for sports fans of all types. While lacking a bit in current star power and overall recent success, it is still a city with plenty of hope and optimism (even if you’re a Cubs fan, I'd venture to say).
There are many components that make up a great sports city. Let’s recap the scores below and see how Chicago stacks up:
- Amount of teams: 20/20
- Success of teams in last five years: 10/20
- Stadiums: 7/10
- Fan passion: 8/10
- General fan experience: 14/15
- Media: 9/10
- Star power: 5/10
- Tradition/History: 5/5