Photos by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.86
United Center 1901 W Madison St Chicago, IL 60612
Year Opened: 1994
Bulls are United with Chicago
The Chicago Bulls moved into the United Center for the beginning of the 1994/1995 NBA season, at the time Michael Jordan was still retired and playing baseball but would rejoin the team later on that year and help usher in a string of three more NBA championships from 1996 to 1998. Twenty years later after his retirement, it is hard not to notice MJ’s accomplishments throughout the building and how magnetic that era was to the fans in Chicago.
The United Center replaced the iconic Chicago Stadium which debuted in 1929 and had been the home to the Bulls since its inaugural year in 1966. The plan to build the multipurpose arena was created by Chicago Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf. The cost of construction was $175 million and would have a capacity of 23,129 for basketball. The arena was also designed with an Art Deco style much like its predecessor providing a nod to the past and progress toward the future.
The United Center introduced an 8,600-square-foot screen display giving it the most high-definition space of any NBA arena. It is four times larger than the previous one that was installed in 2005. Fans on the 100-section level will be able to see videos and stats on a continuous LED inner ring underneath the main screens.
Food & Beverage 4
The United Center has a massive selection of food and beverage options featured on the main concourse. They range from regular stands to the fancier sections with additional seating, while many others have their own social area space. Chicago staples and favorites from around the country are available at the United Center.
The main concession stands are labeled Madison Street Eats, Chicago Sausage Shop, Chicago Dish, and Vienna Beef. Customers can order Chicago-style hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches, Maxwell Street Polishes, chicken tenders and fries, and crinkle-cut fries.
A few specialty areas include the Honey Butter Chicken stand which sells chicken sandwiches, biscuits, and fries with pimento cheese. Lillie’s Q is home to pulled pork and chopped brisket sandwiches. This Little Goat Went to the Market fuses Mexican and Korean flavors. Short rib and Korean-style tacos are recommended. Legacy Burgers offers steak and plant-based burgers.
A few more Chicago specialties include Giordano’s open space that sells thin and deep-crust pizzas, and the Goose Island Pub is a stand-alone bar that offers turkey, corned beef, and roast beef sandwiches. Many stands also feature Garrett’s Chicago Mix (cheddar and caramel popcorn) to conclude the city’s culinary tour.
The Bulls are still a popular draw at the United Center and many games are filled at or near capacity. The main concourse aisles are usually buzzing with commerce, folks grabbing something to eat or checking out many of the interactive video screens that highlight the history of the team including those six NBA titles between 1991 and 1998.
There are also various areas such as the Goose Island Bar and Giordano’s where patrons can relax and enjoy a few drinks and Chicago-style eats while being away from their seats in the main bowl. The upper concourse also offers four social area bars at each corner that open up to the seating area for views of the game.
The attention grabber at the United Center is the championship banners that hang from the rafters of both the Bulls and the Blackhawks. One only has to gaze at the six championship banners by the Bulls and the retired jersey numbers of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen to breathe in the rich history of the team from two decades ago.
The massive seating bowl is large and never feels too steep or cramped. The main aisles open up in the middle resulting in a very easily accessible way to your seat. You never feel as if you’re hiking up a mountain to get to your seat. The same goes for the lower concourse where you feel almost on top of the action taking place on the hardwood.
The Madhouse Team Store, located in the east addition to the arena, is a 10,000-square-foot retail store offering official team merchandise and exclusive Madhouse apparel. Fans have the opportunity to make play-by-play calls via interactive touchscreens located inside repurposed CTA train cars. They can also insert themselves into iconic team photos to share on social media. There are also special sale prices on certain gear and giant-size replicas of both the Stanley Cup and Larry O’Brien Trophy for more photo ops.
However, the main spot for photo opportunities is just outside the store at the Michael Jordan statue. The 12-foot high bronze and black granite is now located indoors inside the atrium and is a work of art.
When there is an event at the United Center the surrounding neighborhood is buzzing with fans heading to the game and grabbing a bite to eat and drink before a Bulls game. The West End of Chicago does have a reputation, but just like the South Side where the Sox play, the neighborhood is fine during hockey and basketball games.
Hawkeye’s is known for its homemade chili and hamburger specials. There is also an array of wine, spirits, and beers. On warmer days, the sidewalk patio makes for a nice choice before a game. Park Tavern serves $3 drafts before every Bulls game, a savings of 70 percent off the price of beer at the arena, and The Ogden and WestEnd offer incredible food, chef-driven dishes, and plenty of flat-screen TVs.
If you are looking for a popular spot in all of Chicago, The Billy Goat on Madison is a few blocks away and is known for its “cheezborgers,” made popular from Saturday Night Live. The restaurant is also part of Chicago lore as being the architect of the Billy Goat Curse that saw the Chicago Cubs go 108 years between World Series victories.
The Bulls are still one of the top-drawing clubs in the league averaging well over 20,000 as of last season with the NBA lead in overall attendance. You would have to go back to 2009 to the last time Chicago did not finish on top of average attendance figures.
CTA buses are the best option for public transportation – either the #20 Madison or the #19 United Center Express. After the game, a fleet of #20 buses will be lined up on Madison heading back to the Loop. Buses run past CTA elevated and subway lines as well as Ogilvie Station for connections via Metra rail to the Chicago suburbs.
The #9 Ashland and #50 Damen buses are options for travelers heading north/south instead. CTA elevated trains are within walking distance via the Ashland/Lake station (Green/Pink Lines).
Once inside, the seating areas are divided evenly to make for easy access to all sections of the seating area. The upper and lower concourses are somewhat narrow in certain parts but large enough to keep traffic flowing smoothly.
Return on Investment 4
There is a demand for Bulls tickets and the team still attracts 20,000 plus for most games during the regular season, regardless of record. The prices differ depending on what night and who is in town to take on the Bulls.
The secondary market is probably the cheapest option for tickets. A weekday game will cost around $40 for the least expensive ticket, but weekend games can rise to $75. There is also the factor of a popular team visiting the United Center that will up the price. Games against the Bucks and Nets can be pricey, but not so much against the Thunder or Kings on a weekday evening.
With that being said, a little research and flexible time would be beneficial for finding the most affordable ticket. There are multiple online ticket sites, along with the United Center box office. Chicago is one of the most high-demand NBA markets with teams among the league leaders in attendance on an annual basis.
Concession prices are somewhat high but not anything different from other NBA arenas, expect to pay around $10 for sandwiches, $9-$11 for beers, and up to $18 for premium food items. Parking lots are $24 to park a car, a definite steal in Chicago, or park along Wood Street under the elevated train line for free–if available.
The United Center gets an extra point for its design which pays homage to the old Chicago Stadium that existed from 1929 to 1994. The signage inside the concourse aisles all have Art Deco fonts and there are plenty of other nods to this design in the interior and exterior of the building.
The second point goes to all those championship banners that hang from the rafters and provide a defiant exclamation point and wow factor to any first-time visitor walking to their seats.
The third point goes to the atrium that houses the Michael Jordan statue, Queenie’s Supper Club, and the Madhouse Team Store. There will be further additions to the atrium in the future, perhaps creating a festive vibe just outside the building and underneath the roof.
The final point goes to the extensive video screens located on the lower concourse that showcase team history, player profiles, and photo opportunities for fans. There is also a trophy case that displays all six NBA championship trophies.
The United Center has enough of what you need for an enjoyable evening of professional basketball. The history of the Bulls is on display all over the building, the social areas are great for spending time away from the game, and there is always an energetic crowd to liven up the mood of the building.