It’s hard to be a renter. Introduced in 2005, the Chicago Sky are one of only two WNBA teams that came into the league without ties to an NBA franchise, meaning that they’ve had to rent space at the UIC Pavilion and now the suburban Allstate Arena, and they’ve had to find their own way in a crowded market, without a promo boost from the Bulls.
Allstate Arena plays host to a few mid-tier Chicago-area teams, notably the Sky, DePaul University men’s basketball, and Chicago Wolves ice hockey. Professional wrestling, the circus, monster trucks, rodeos, and flea markets are also a regular part of the calendar, and it’s probably best known as a concert venue for big draws like Garth Brooks and Rod Stewart. In short, this is the epitome of a multi-purpose venue, with a capacity that’s about triple the size of the average Sky crowd.
Surprisingly, though, basketball is a natural fit at Allstate Arena. Judging solely by the playing area, you might not think it’s used for anything else. It’s only outside the playing area that most of the flaws become apparent. A lot of those are out of the team’s control, as tenants, but the basketball presentation is superb.
Being independent has allowed the Sky to develop a visual identity (and a sweet color scheme) that belongs to them and only them, unlike the cringe-worthy knockoffs that plagued the early WNBA. It took a while for the team’s talent to coalesce, but this is now a fun afternoon of basketball, with a family friendly emphasis.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The pizza slices from Connie's ($6.75) are far and away the most popular items. They're big, thick, and cheesy but easy to eat without causing a mess. Beware, though: at least one concession stand serves mealy, unappetizing thin crust slices instead of Connie's.
The busiest concessions are at the north gate. There's a Breyer's ice cream stand at one end with cones & cups ($4), waffle cones ($6), and root beer floats and milkshakes ($6). Across the way are "Xtreme" hot dogs ($6), asking you to select from Chicago, Atlanta, San Antonio, or New York styles; there are Milwaukee dogs around, too, whatever those might be. Elsewhere, you can find a style-less hot dog for $5.50. Despite the excess of options, the quality is good; the Vienna beef hot dogs are hot and juicy, with plenty of fresh fixings. The north gate also has the only "gourmet" option in the stadium, a small carvery offering roast beef sandwiches with fresh made potato chips ($10 regular, $13 jumbo).
The lines are a mess at the north gate, though. At no point is the wait less than several minutes, and the halftime lines continue long after the third quarter is over.
The concessions at the south gate are much calmer and offer plenty of items not found elsewhere, such as cheeseburgers ($6 single, $8 double), Philly cheesesteaks and Italian beef sandwiches ($8.50), and - for parents with kids to feed - reasonably priced combo meals, such as chicken tenders with fries ($8.75). If you entered through the north gate, you'd have no idea the food was completely different on the other side.
The candy options ($3.50) show good taste - Haribo gummy bears, Sour Patch Kids, and Twizzlers included - but the cookies are trash.
Sodas are Pepsi products, $5 or $6 in a nifty Sky souvenir cup. Bottled water is $4.50. By default, Miller/Coors beer is served ($7.75 draft), but there is an oasis of other alcohol by the east gate, with other beers in draft or bottle form, wine, margaritas, and mai tais. Mixed drinks are $10 single, $15 double flavored.
The venue sets the prices, and they're in line with what you would expect at Chicago's biggest stadiums. When you combine the long lines with the many items that are only found in one place - and the difficulty of moving kids through crowds - it's not a great setup for families, and therefore the majority of the fans. If you want food or drinks, you're likely to miss a big chunk of the game, and the handful of monitors by the concession stands look like floor models from a Circuit City going out of business sale.
Note that the concession stands on the upper level are closed during Sky games, and that signs in the hallways may only be applicable for the concert configuration of the arena, not the Sky configuration - so you may see signs directing you toward closed or non-existent concession stands. Keep walking and you'll find something eventually.
Whether because of the family audience or simply a different style of competitive spirit, Sky games encourage a friendlier atmosphere toward opponents than the average sporting event. While fans at an NBA game are cued to hate the visitors as part and parcel of rallying around the home team, and the game presentation exhorts fans to get outraged at bad calls, opponents at a Sky game are introduced in a pleasant, convivial manner, and the presentation stays focused on supporting the Sky. So it's a different experience than fans accustomed to men's sports might expect - lots of cheers, not so many jeers.
Other than that, the audio cues come straight out of Basketball 101. As might be expected from a concert venue, the sound system is good. The Jumbotron is visible from every seat and the screen quality is crisp. The live feed tends to remain on the standard overhead view, though, which isn't much better than the actual view anyone watching the game would have. More replays (and season highlight packages) would help clarify the action and establish the personalities on the team.
That said, the game presentation does a great job getting the crowd excited before the game, and there's a nice mix of entertainment and contests during timeouts without the usual imperative to cram music and video into every pause. That clearly helps ensure that kids in the crowd don't end up over-stimulated.
And the real ace in the hole is Ray Clay, the public address announcer. Clay was the announcer for the Bulls from 1990-2002, including all six championships under Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, and he hasn't lost a step. His voice interacts with crowd noise beautifully, and his player introductions and announcements are note perfect, like Sinatra coaxing every nuance out of an old standard without a trace of effort. The man is a living master and worth the price of admission on his own.
Rosemont aspires to be the Atlantic City of the Chicago suburbs, which is about as dire as aspirations get. It's a bunch of hotels, convention facilities, and shuttle drivers from the casino in the suburb down the road. It's also close to O'Hare Airport, which means it's a long way from anywhere else in Chicago. If you're staying in Rosemont, it's probably because you are going to a convention or you got a last-minute "deal" on a travel website that you should never use again.
The best restaurants in the area are probably the three Frontera counters at O'Hare, but in lieu of an airline ticket, there are suburban approximations of joints like Gibsons (5464 N. River Rd.) and Morton's (9525 W. Bryn Mawr) for steaks and Giordano's (9415 W. Higgins Rd.) for deep dish pizza. Just eat at whatever's closest to your hotel. It doesn't make a difference.
If you're driving in for the game, there is a strip mall (anchored by a Target) across the street from Allstate Arena with fast food chains like Subway, Chipotle, and Panda Express.
Sky fans make a lot of noise for the team. Even during a game when the Sky were resting their stars - and getting pasted by an opponent that wasn't doing the same - the fans stayed engaged and didn't bail in large numbers until the last minute of the fourth quarter. In a crowded sports market, the strength of a fanbase can be measured by the number of jerseys from other local teams that you see in the crowd. By that measure, Sky fans do fine.
With a lot of children in the crowd, it doesn't make sense to compare the fan intensity level to other pro sports, but the kids stay more focused and interested than at many college games I've seen, and their cheers aren't indiscriminate - they seem to get and respond to what's going on in the game.
Allstate Arena was designed for drivers. I-90 runs past the stadium, and I-294 is a short distance away. In theory, the trip should take about a half hour from downtown Chicago, but I-90 tends to develop traffic jams for no discernible reason while coming in and out of the city, so allow extra time. Parking is $13, which is a bit steep given the vast oversupply of parking spaces.
Getting to the stadium by public transit is possible but time-consuming. From the south or downtown, take the CTA Blue Line to Rosemont and then catch the Pace 222 Allstate Arena Express bus (or the Pace 250 bus from O'Hare). From the north, take the CTA Red Line to Howard, then change to the CTA Yellow Line and take that to Skokie - or take the CTA Purple Line to Davis - and catch the Pace 250 Dempster bus, which runs past Allstate Arena.
There are no lines for the restrooms, since the arena was built to accommodate much larger crowds than the average Sky game. Likewise, the halls are plenty wide for groups to wander, although the oddly angular layout and intermittent stretches of 1980s carpets can make for a weird trip. If you're a connoisseur of ugly carpets, make time for a tour of the empty concession areas on the upper level.
There are elevated decks at the corners of the lower level with wheelchair ramps and accessible seating, offering pretty good views of the court.
When the Sky are at full strength, they feature one of the best young players in the game, Elena Delle Donne, backed by a strong core of veterans. Whether you want to show kids basketball up close or you simply want a good view of a game, it's worth the trip. The ticket prices are comparable to the mid-to-lower tier men's NCAA Division I programs in Chicago, and the talent level and team cohesion are as good or better. Only the concessions and parking keep this from a top score in return on investment.
The cheapest tickets are the 'zone' seating behind either basket ($15). If you opt for these, try to avoid sections 105-108, which require you to look past the floor level Courtside Club to see the court - the cocktail tables make for an incongruous view. Sections 113-116, also at the zone price, don't have that problem. However, neither the sideline wing ($20) or center court ($30) tickets are much more expensive, and are worth the extra cost. For families, the Sky Guy 4 Pack offers a good deal.
The Courtside Club seats ($125) do offer a few notable advantages - the cocktail tables are spaced a good distance apart, there's complimentary popcorn and drinks, and Sky players enter and exit the court through the area, so kids can collect high-fives.
Note that the box office is in a small building across the street (Lunt Ave) from the north gate of the arena, behind the Target.
Souvenirs are only sold in one, out of the way spot, which is odd. Entering the north gate, turn left and the souvenir table will be just around the first corner. Jerseys are expensive, but there are plenty of t-shirts (mostly $25 for adults, $12 for kids), as well as hats for $22.
One bonus point for Sky Guy, the mascot, who seems to be everywhere at once - working the crowd, performing stunts, and posing for photos with fans.
Another bonus point for having Ray Clay as the public address announcer. Forget the statue outside the United Center - if you want a Michael Jordan experience, come to a Sky game. Should anybody in either team's starting lineup come from UNC, hearing even a muted "...frrrom North Carolina..." will give you chills.
A third bonus point for the kid-friendly activities in the hallways, which include a table for sleight-of-hand magic tricks and an inflatable pop-a-shot tent that stayed up until halftime. Why doesn't every basketball team have pop-a-shot in the hallway?
While Allstate Arena hosts basketball well, it is a bit sad to watch staff hurriedly disassembling Sky displays during the third quarter, presumably to make sure the venue was turned over on time. Also, if the Blue Demons and the Wolves can have banners in the rafters, the Sky ought to be able to hang something for their 2013 division title or Delle Donne's rookie of the year award. What the Sky does well only reminds you of how difficult it can be for teams to be one of many tenants in their home stadium.
Attendance has grown steadily over the last few years, but the Sky still lag behind the WNBA average. Being in the suburbs has pros and cons; it's convenient for a family to drive to a game, but it also keeps the team out of sight and out of mind for most Chicagoans, putting a limit on their potential audience. It will be interesting to see whether the team stays at Allstate Arena over the long haul or considers following DePaul to the city when their new basketball stadium opens in a few years.
Allstate Arena is one of the best examples of a "multi-use facility." Those words make me cringe as it is sort of the equivalent of "jack-of-all-trades, master of none." When compared to what you can expect from the DePaul men's basketball game experience, this is easily the better option.
The Chicago Sky were founded in 2006, and have missed the playoffs in their first five seasons of existence. That tide seems to be changing however, and the Sky may begin to grow their following in the competitive Chicago market.
One of my challenges in writing this review was separating between the team and the venue. A lot of the experience suffers due to what I perceive to be incorrect price points (more on that throughout), but many of those decisions are controlled by the facility and not the team. The bottom line is if you need your basketball during the summer months, or want to see women playing the game at the top level, then this is an experience you will want to see.
10233 W Higgins Rd
Rosemont, IL 60018
2777 Mannheim Rd
Des Plaines, IL 60018
5464 N River Rd
Rosemont, IL 60018
9525 Bryn Mawr Ave
Rosemont, IL 60018
There are no local entertainment entries. Help us build with your expertise!
There are no local lodging entries. Help us build with your expertise!