- Lloyd Brown
United Center – Chicago Blackhawks
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.29
United Center 1901 W Madison St Chicago, IL 60612
Year Opened: 1994
United by Stanley
The Chicago Blackhawks have one of the most fabled histories in the NHL, as they are a member of the “Original Six.” The team was founded in 1926. Over that period the team has won six Stanley Cups and countless other conference and division titles. They list Hall of Famers Glen Hall, Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Tony Esposito amongst their past players and Patrick Kane as one of their current stars.
The Blackhawks used Chicago Stadium for their home ice until 1995, when they moved across the street into the United Center. The team is celebrating its 25th anniversary in the building throughout the 2019-2020 season. The United Center is the largest arena in square footage in the United States and has a capacity of 19,717 for hockey (with room for 3,000 more fans willing to take standing room only tickets). There are 167 executive suites, 34 club boxes and 5 super suites in the facility. The arena is owned jointly by the Chicago Bulls and the Chicago Blackhawks.
Food & Beverage 4
The United Center has implemented Chicago’s Plate, a concessions program that highlights the rich food heritage of Chicago. Vendors include Sweet Baby Rays (Chicago style BBQ), Vienna Beef (Chicago Dogs), Gibson’s (sliders and shoestring potatoes), Chicago Dish (Chicago-style deep dish pizza), Hometown Sweets (Eli’s Cheesecake) and Giordano’s Pizza.
In addition to the Chicago’s Plate vendors, you’ll still find plenty of stands offering the typical arena standards. Prices range from $5 – $8.50 for standard fare.
Beer concessions are provided by Chicago’s own Goose Island Beer Company. The United Center also features a rotation of various craft beer breweries at games throughout the season. The arena sells Coca-Cola brand sodas.
The old Chicago Stadium was known for its ability to generate a noise level unmatched in the NHL. The Blackhawks have been able to capture that feature and transfer it to the United Center. The noise level can be deafening, even during the National Anthem. As an Original Six franchise, the team has done a great job of saluting its past with exhibits on the team history throughout the arena and filled the rafters with banners of their past championships. Even though the Blackhawks mid 2010-2015 glory years are behind them, the enthusiasm and attendance has not suffered. The team sells out its summertime Blackhawks Convention each year as a prelude for when the games start for real in October.
The Blackhawks have also brought over two important elements from its previous home. Chicago Stadium was built in an era when organs provided the game music, not a piped in audio system. The United Center honors both the past and present by having an organ lead the cheers, as well as a state-of-the-art audio system to service the musical desires of today’s hockey fans. Another major part of the Blackhawks off ice team is PA announcer Gene Honda. Honda is known as the voice of the Blackhawks, the Chicago White Sox, the DePaul Blue Demons, the Big10 Tournament and Illinois football. He is the only PA announcer to work a World Series, the MLB All Star Game, the Stanley Cup Finals, the NCAA Final Four and the NCAA Frozen Four. A cheer goes up immediately when he says “Welcome to the United Center” … drowning out the rest of the sentence.
Your Blackhawk experience will begin before you even enter the United Center. There are individual statues of both Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita outside the arena, along with a group statue featuring multiple Blackhawk stars that was introduced as part of the team’s 75th Anniversary celebration.
Despite being the largest arena in the USA, the seating bowl around the rink feels surprisingly intimate. It features good sight lines and other than the upper level seating, the pitch of the seats is not too steep. Persons with height issues may want to find seating in one of the lower levels.
The electronic package at the United Center is top notch. The HD video board at center ice provides crystal clear views on relays and great graphics packages. A 360-degree ribbon board keeps fans updated on out of town scores and info on upcoming events.
The neighborhood surrounding the United Center is designated as the United Center neighborhood. It previously was known as the West Loop neighborhood, as it lies to the west of downtown Chicago and is just north of I-290 (known as the loop highway). It has been a somewhat rough neighborhood in the past, but is rapidly gentrifying with restaurants and shops opening along West Madison Street.
Two spots you will want to check out are the Billy Goat Tavern (of “Cheezborger…no Pepsi” fame back in SNL’s glory days) and the Ogden Chicago, the official pre and post-game hangout of Blackhawk fans. Both are within walking distance of the United Center.
The closest hotel to the United Center is the Hotel Chicago West Loop, which is just four blocks from the arena. The nearby Marriott Medical Center/UIC also offers shuttle service for its guests to and from the United Center.
The Blackhawk fans are loud, and they are proud. Unlike baseball in Chicago, there are no split loyalties here. The United Center truly is the base for a united fan base. The stands are a massive sea of red and black, and the fans have established several unique (and sometimes colorful) cheers when an opposing player goes to the penalty box or when an opposing goalie allows a Blackhawk goal. The Blackhawk fan base does not limit themselves to the confines of the United Center. They fill designated bars throughout Chicago and the state of Illinois for viewing parties. The Blackhawk Nation is also known for traveling to opposing arenas in large numbers, often drowning out the home team fans with their pro-Blackhawk cheers. This is made possible through the excellent air connections provided by both O’Hare and Midway Airports.
One popular site for Blackhawk fans and visitors alike is the Madhouse Store. It does serve as a team store but serves a much broader purpose. In addition to merchandise, it offers photo booths, interactive games, a history of both the Blackhawks and Bulls teams and larger than life trophy displays. The Madhouse is open during the day in addition to event nights and is well worth a visit, even if you can’t make it to a game.
Traffic will be an issue in the Chicagoland area, whether you use back streets or major highways. It is wise to allow an extra 45 minutes to get from your location to a Blackhawk game. Many of the streets surrounding the United Center are narrow neighborhood streets and many are closed off by the CPD prior to the games. Access from I-290 is rather straightforward, as you take the Damen Avenue exit (#28A) and take Damen Avenue north to Madison. Turn right on Madison and the United Center will be on your right. From I-90 East take the Madison Street exit and take a right on Madison. This will lead you directly to the United Center.
The CTA public transit authority provides an excellent alternative to driving to the games. Their Brown, Purple and Orange rail lines will all drop you off very close to the United Center.
Once inside the United Center you will find wide concourses with both restrooms and concession areas recessed from the most narrow portions of the concourse to facilitate easy movement in the main concourse. The concession stands and restrooms are frequent enough that you should not encounter any long lines.
Return on Investment 5
The average cost of attending a Chicago Blackhawks game is much less than you would think. According to MONEY magazine the average ticket price is $55. Parking costs vary depending how close you are to the United Center. Official lots maintained by the United Center run $30-$40. However, lots a few blocks away charge around $15. On-street parking is allowed nearby, and you may even park for free.
Concession prices at the United Center are also quite reasonable. A small sampling of typically purchased items includes domestic beers for $8.50, popcorn for $5.75, nachos, pretzels and pizza all come in at $6 with sodas costing $5.
The CTA public transit system has stations on the Brown, Purple and Orange lines near the United Center. Fares vary based on distance and number of zones traveled on the system.
You are not likely to see the ceiling of the United Center due to all the Blackhawk and Bulls banners hanging from the rafters. There are 6 banners for the Stanley Cup Championships, 4 for Conference Championships, 2 for earning the President’s Trophy and 16 for Division Championships. That does not even include the six retired jersey numbers or any of the Chicago Bulls banners!
The origin of the Blackhawks name and iconic logo is quite interesting. The original owner of the team served in the Blackhawk Division during World War I. The division was named for Black Hawk, a prominent member of the Sauk Indian nation based in Illinois. The team was named in his honor. The iconic logo of the team was designed by the wife of the original owner and has never been changed or updated.
The United Center has activities scheduled for an average of 200 nights a year. The facility is one of the largest indoor concert venues in the area. It also hosts Chicago Bulls games, the Big Ten Tournament, the NCAA Tournaments in both basketball and hockey, the University of Illinois plays an annual hockey tournament at the United Center, and the arena hosts entertainment activities like Disney on Ice.
The United Center is the host facility of the 2020 NBA All Star Game.
2019 is the 25th season that the Blackhawks have played at the United Center. Numerous events are scheduled in conjunction with the anniversary observance.
A visit to the Windy City and a Chicago Blackhawk game will provide you with a very enjoyable sports adventure. Seeing an Original Six team play is always on an NHL bucket list and the United Center is a very impressive place to take in a game. Afterwards, you’ve got an enormous number of fine restaurants to choose from and Chicago offers numerous attractions to visit over a long sports weekend.