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Official Review by Brian O'Sullivan, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Chicago is rich with basketball history. From Michael Jordan to Phil Jackson, a plethora of greats have stood before the crowds at the United Center. Although many people associate the history of Chicago basketball with the Bulls, five Division I basketball programs call the city home. Additionally, the State of Illinois is home to dozens of great basketball programs, which expands the tradition of excellence outside of the city limits.
State Farm Chicago Legends aims to recognize the decades of basketball history with a night full of college basketball at the United Center, which combines the collegiate and professional success within the city and the state. The 2016 match ups featured the Northwestern University Wildcats facing the University of Dayton Flyers and the University of Illinois Fighting Illini squaring off against the Brigham Young University Cougars.
With its inaugural year in 2016, State Farm Chicago Legends has yet to reach its full potential but has all the pieces in place to be a successful night of basketball in the years to come.
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".
Nearly all of the food offerings at the United Center, although expensive for college basketball, are delicious and satisfying.
For State Farm Chicago Legends, the United Center opens most of its concessions stands at the 100-level and a smaller number at the 300-level. Offerings include classics such as Vienna Beef hot dogs ($6.50) and nachos ($7.25) as well as more adventurous options such as the BBQ at Sweet Baby Ray's on the 100-level. If you are looking for dessert, the United Center also offers ice cream ($6) and candy ($4). The arena also features many other food options that are sure to satisfy every fan.
A handful of Coke products ($6.25 / $6.75) are available throughout the arena. Additionally, both domestic ($9) and craft ($10.75) beers are available, including Budweiser and Stella Artois. The most popular beer selection, however, is Goose Island, which is headquartered in Chicago.
Any drink from Goose Island paired with a Vienna Beef hot dog is a never fail Chicago combination.
Outside, the United Center is covered in digital displays describing the event taking place inside for that particular night. Inside, the United Center is comprised of three main seating levels. The seats are identical on every level and are comfortable with adequate leg room, even though they lack cupholders. All the seats feature perfect sightlines to the court, even in the 300-level. A gorgeous scoreboard hangs above the court, which displays all the information and replays one could desire while watching the game. The court is customized for State Farm Chicago Legends, with a logo at center court. The PA announcer does a great job of keeping the fans updated with any pertinent announcements.
The bands from the different universities fill most of the breaks, which is a great way to keep fans engaged throughout the game. Additionally, during both games, there is a time to recognize the veterans in the crowd. To incorporate the legends aspect of the two games, State Farm Chicago Legends honors different members of the Chicago basketball community that played an integral role in its development. Although DePaul University did not play in either of the two games in 2016, the two honorees were Mark Aguirre, a former player at DePaul, and Ray Myer, a former coach at DePaul.
Most fans are concentrated toward the center of the seating bowl, with almost no fans being seated behind the hoops, especially at the 200 level. All the seats at the United Center, however, are great and provide a clear view of the court.
While the United Center is located in Chicago, it is isolated from any attractions that can entertain guests before or after games. The best way to travel to the arena is via taxi or car because of its location.
Chicago is famous for its deep dish pizza. One of the best places in the city is Chicago's Pizza, which even offers a gluten free deep dish pizza. If you are looking for something a little bit different, Smoque BBQ offers a great selection of delicious food.
State Farm Chicago Legends takes place right in the middle of the Bulls' and Blackhawks' season, which means it is easy to catch another game at the United Center. Aside from sports, Chicago also offers a countless number of attractions. The Museum of Science and Industry is a favorite among both tourists and locals. Additionally, the Shedd Aquarium is a great place to spend time inside during cold Chicago winters.
Staying in downtown Chicago can get pricey, but the best bargain in the entire city is Dewitt Hotel and Suites. Although the accommodations are not luxurious, the location cannot be beat for the price. Another great option is the Silversmith Hotel, which is also located downtown.
State Farm Chicago Legends needs time to develop interest from local fans and will undoubtedly boost its attendance numbers in years to come.
With two games in one night, there is some fluctuation in the attendance. Some fans only stay for one game, especially if they have a loyalty to one specific school. The arena never seems to be over one third of its capacity at any given point during the night.
One of the biggest surprises from the State Farm Chicago Legends is just how well fans from universities travel, The University of Dayton, for example, has a loyal following, which means their fans are always engaged with the action. The Fighting Illini have a deep connection to Illinois, which helps attract their fans to the United Center to see their team. The cheerleaders from teams also perform on the court during some of the breaks, which helps with fan engagement.
While it is somewhat challenging to get to the United Center, once inside, the arena is accessible for nearly all patrons.
Public transportation to the United Center is limited. The best option is to take the Orange, Green, Purple, or Brown Lines to Madison and then take the #19 or #20 bus.
There are a number of parking lots located around the arena, with most running between $20 and $30. If you buy a parking pass on Ticketmaster beforehand, you will save a few dollars. Traffic flow is well controlled both before and after games.
The entry process into the arena is seamless. Every gate provides easy access into the arena and the security lines move swiftly.
The concourse provides ample room to move around, even when the concessions lines grow long. Restrooms are kept clean and lines move quickly. There is a handicap accessible parking lot (Lot G) located directly next to the United Center, and the arena itself is also accessible once inside.
The cost of tickets, combined with the price of concessions, make attending State Farm Legends Classic slightly more expensive than one would hope.
Ticket prices range from around $50 to $100, with a number of options in between. While these prices are expensive, it is important to remember that this price includes two basketball games. Combining this expense with the price of concessions, however, means the average fan will be spending around $75 for the night, which is pricey for a college basketball experience.
An extra point is awarded for the Chicago Cubs World Series Trophy making an appearance at the 2016 games, even though the line to see the trophy grew out of control. Another extra point is awarded for the effort to make the United Center feel customized to State Farm Chicago Legends. A final extra point is awarded for the incorporation of the university bands, which added a nice touch to the experience.
While it may not be worth the cost to travel to Chicago only to attend State Farm Chicago Legends, it is worth checking out at least once if the opportunity ever arises.
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5700 S. Lake Shore Dr.
Chicago, IL 60637