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Official Review by Daniel Armstrong, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
On February 11, 1981, the Major League Indoor Soccer League played their annual all-star game at Madison Square Garden in New York City. A man named Jim Foster was in attendance on that chilly winter's night. While watching the game he had an idea, that idea turned into a vision. Mr. Foster scribbled a set of rules and regulations on the back of a manilla folder and the new sport of arena football was born.
Chicago could be considered the birthplace of arena football. After five years of figuring out the details, Jim Foster was ready to turn his vision into a reality. In the Chicago area, he created a small test league that played at the Rockford Metrocentre and the Allstate Arena in 1986. Three decades later, Chi-Town had a new indoor football team, the Chicago Slaughter of the Indoor Football League, who call the beautiful Sears Centre home.
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".
There is a decent variety of options but it is of average quality. You have your classics: jumbo dog (more like average sized hot dog in a super sized bun) for $4.75, halftime pizza ($6.50), large popcorn or pretzel for ($4.50), or a cheeseburger for $6.50. There are two stands with a variety of unique options: one is a BBQ stand and the other sold various "gourmet" hot dogs for between $5-$8.
As far as beverages go, there is water and Gatorade for $4.50, coffee or cocoa for $2.50, a limited variety of beer for $7.75, a small Pepsi for $4.75, or a bottomless Pepsi for $6.00. I applaud the Sears Centre for offering an endless refill soft drink; the price is still ridiculous but at least you can get more for your money.
The game I attended had 4,500 fans, which is a great crowd for the Indoor Football League, competitor to the more-famous - and heir-apparent to Mr. Foster's brainchild - Arena Football League. But when they're scattered throughout a 6,500 seat lower level and a 4,500-seat balcony, they cannot have a direct impact on the game. The crowd looks very spotty because of the way they are distributed. The Slaughter have a mildly impressive opening video and an above-average pyrotechnics show before the game that added some electricity; in fact, it may have been the high point of the evening. The seats are all padded and very comfortable unless you are taller, because the leg room is inadequate.
The village of Hoffman Estates is a quaint, peaceful suburb. While it appears to be an ideal place to live, it's not the ideal place to hang out before or after the game. The nearest restaurant is close to a mile away and there is a large shopping center further down the way, so there are limited post game options and none within comfortable walking distance.
There was a good crowd, better than I expected, and they showed above-average interest. But they were too scattered to really have much of an impact on the game. I would suggest that they rope off the balcony for Slaughter games, as it would improve the atmosphere considerably.
If you're coming from downtown Chicago, you should allot at least 45 minutes for travel to Hoffman Estates. The arena is located on the edge of the village so there's only one place to park; the arena's parking lot which is large enough to accommodate a sellout and there's not a large line going in or out, but they charge $10.00.
Once inside, you won't have any trouble finding restrooms or concession stands as long as you are sitting in the lower level. If you're in the balcony, however, it's a different situation. There are no concessions or restrooms open in the upper level. The seating bowl is horseshoe-shaped and at each end is a large room behind the scoreboard area that appears to have been built for use as a concessions/restroom area, but it was dark and filled with what appeared to be replacement stadium seating. So, if you would like to take advantage of those amenities, I recommend you do so before making the trek up the stairs. At the time of my visit, only 3 access points to the balcony were open all in the curved area. If your seats are on the sides, you will have a considerable walk to your seat.
Tickets range from $9-$35. I would recommend you avoid the balcony and go for either the $11 seats in the end zone or the $18.50 seats on the sidelines. Combine that with $10 parking and a good $20 for food, drink, and a snack, the damage will come to $50, which really is not worth it. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed the experience, but there are definitely more cost effective options in the Chicago area.
I was prepared to give this building 2 extra points for visual appeal, as it is one of the nicest venues I have visited. The exterior is classy, the concourse well decorated and spacious, and the arena itself is picturesque. It has a large high-quality video board on one end and a LED ribbon between the two levels. My compliments to the architects.
Then you see the field. It is arguably the worst playing surface I have ever seen. The markings are faded and chipped away, the field was torn, and curling up and lumping in places. It looked as though parts had worn out all together and had been replaced by parts of a different field; it didn't match up and you could make out the segments. It was hideous and definitely didn't match up with the classy arena it's housed in. It is in desperate need of replacement and I think it's way beyond the point of repair; because of that, it lost the arena an extra point.
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