This offseason, two moves became much ballyhooed within WNBA circles.
The first was that of the San Antonio Stars being bought by MGM Resorts and moving to Las Vegas as the Stars morphed into the Aces.
The other was that of the New York Liberty as the impending sale of the franchise by MSG has them playing the majority of contests at the Westchester County Center this season.
But lost in the San Antonio-Las Vegas-New York kerfuffle that was the 2018 WNBA offseason was another move that was not quite as hemmed and hawed.
— Curbed Chicago (@curbedchicago) July 25, 2017
After a stint where the Sky called Allstate Arena in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont home, the team signed a five-year lease to call the new Wintrust Arena – an extension of the McCormick Convention Center – its home court.
The deal signed by the Sky was for five years with an option for five more years per an agreement with the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority – the entity that is in charge of McCormick Place and Navy Pier.
We look to be here for the forseeable future.
–Adam Fox, president/CEO of Chicago Sky in comments to Beyond The W
The agreement the Sky brokered with the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority called for the organization to pay over $160,000 per season and $9,500 every playoff game – roughly the same amount they paid to the village of Rosemont for their games at Allstate Arena.
The move gives the Sky a home venue well within the Chicago city limits – on the South Loop to be exact. Fox says a big reason for choosing Wintrust Arena was to move the Sky closer to the bulk of its season ticket base as well as the city’s business community.
It gives us a clean start. It’s brought us closer to a lot of the folks who have been supporting us. It’s been really well-received within the corporate community and we’re very excited to see how far we can go here in the new facility.
–Adam Fox, president/CEO, Chicago Sky
We had to do our fair share of due diligence to recognize where our demographics were – take the temperature of our partners, sponsors, and we looked at where our tickets were coming from. And we sort of weighed all of the factors that anyone would think people would want to weigh heading into something like this.
On the court, the Sky have gone through a fair share of growing pains since the departure of Elena Delle Donne as she joined the Washington Mystics, in large part, to be closer to her native Delaware.
Last season, the Sky finished out of the WNBA’s playoff picture and were asked plenty of questions about how they were performing sans Delle Donne.
As the 2018 season commences, the Sky did lose Cappie Pondexter to the Los Angeles Sparks, but will bring back the interior presence of Stefanie Dolson and the three-point shooting of Allie Quigley. The team also made two notable draft picks this year in Gabby Williams and Diamond DeShields – the daughter of former Chicago Cub Delino DeShields.
The Sky will also see Alaina Coates hit the court for the first time in her WNBA career after she was sidelined all last season due to an injury that kept her on the bench when her alma mater – South Carolina – made its 2017 run to a national championship.
With the team having transitioned out of the Delle Donne days, the move to Wintrust Arena could be coming at the right time as the organization creates a new identity under Amber Stocks, who will enter her second season as Sky head coach. Fox sees a future for the Sky where they are just as well-talked about as the Cubs, White Sox, Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls, and Fire along with Illinois and Notre Dame athletics.
The gameplan is for this team to be here for a long, long time, and to continue to weave ourselves into the sports fabric of the city so that ultimately, as people mentioned, the professional teams here in the city – it goes from being the big five to the big six or seven…and the Chicago Sky are mentioned in the same breath.
It is not the first time the Sky have played in the Chicago city limits.
Prior to moving to Chicagoland’s Allstate Arena, the Sky played its home games at the UIC Pavilion on the campus of the University of Illinois-Chicago.
At just over 10,000 seats, Wintrust Arena has a smaller capacity than Allstate Arena, but a much larger capacity than that of the UIC Pavilion. A common debate in WNBA circles is if more teams should take the approach of playing in smaller venues, such as the Dallas Wings who play at the University of Texas-Arlington’s basketball venue or larger stadia as is the case with the Minnesota Lynx, Washington Mystics, Phoenix Mercury, and Indiana Fever.
According to Fox, a sweeping generalization cannot be made on whether smaller college-sized venues or larger NBA-sized stadia suit the WNBA better and that such a judgement call has to be made on a city-by-city and market-by-market basis.
You want to make sure you’re putting the WNBA product in the best possible arena, with the best possible amenities not only for your players, but certainly for the people are attending your game.
If the fans aren’t getting the best value for coming to a game, then they may not want to come. So, regardless of the size of the arena, it really is based on what’s in your cities, the amenities, etc.
Whether it is the Allstate Arena, Wintrust Arena, or the UIC Pavilion, as most who live in the Chicagoland area know, there is no shortage of public transit in the area as it is one of the largest transit hubs in the United States.
Rosemont is only a short L ride from the Loop and the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), in 2015, opened the new Cermak-McCormick Place station on the Green Line. Three blocks east of the station is Wintrust Arena. Three blocks east of the arena is McCormick Place itself, which also has a Metra stop.
Fox says he recognized that for those in the suburbs that it may be more of an adventure to commute to the South Loop than it was to Rosemont. The result was that the Sky moved back the start times for games by a half hour taking into account Chicago traffic during the summer months.
We think it’ll all net out to the positive, but it wasn’t an easy decision. But it’s one that to this point seems to be working out for us.
–Adam Fox, president/CEO, Chicago Sky
As the arena is an extension of McCormick Place as well as playing host to DePaul Blue Demons women’s and men’s basketball, the move of the Sky to the venue makes Wintrust Arena a year-round hotspot. Fox believes that positive fortunes will come as the arena hosts more events and when people become more used to the idea of commuting to the stadium.
I think everybody understands that a rising tide will lift all the ships. And, so the more events, the more notice, the more people get used to the idea of coming down to this arena, better it’ll be for the arena, for DePaul, for everybody else who’s going to be here alongside us and at different times of the year.
Some of those future events involving Wintrust Arena may be events that involve the WNBA and NBA. A few months ago, it was announced that Chicago will be the host city for NBA All-Star 2020. While the bulk of the festivities will be at United Center – the home of the Chicago Bulls, the All-Star Celebrity Game as well as the Rising Stars and All-Star Game practices will emanate from Wintrust Arena.
From a WNBA onlooker’s perspective, the arena may also be a suitable venue for a future WNBA All-Star Game. Chicago has never hosted the WNBA All-Star Game and the first two All-Star weekends under president Lisa Borders have or will be in cities and venues that have never hosted (Seattle-KeyArena last season, Minneapolis-Target Center this season).
While future WNBA events such as the All-Star Game may be on the Sky’s radar, Fox says getting one complete season at Wintrust Arena is first on his and the organization’s wish list.
Clearly, it’s something we would consider doing. We knew we had to get at least one successful season under our belt before we take on the responsibility of hosting an All-Star weekend.
I do think it’s something we’re looking at and I would say it is one of the possibilities now that we’re down here in the building.
Chicago as a whole could be a future destination for more sporting events. With McCormick Place being the nation’s largest convention facility, there is never any shortage of The Windy City attracting major conventions. Chicago is also experiencing a well-noted skyscraper boom within the Loop region, which is somewhat appropriate given the city’s history with the skyscraper.
As this neighborhood continues to develop and more conventions are coming, and more restaurants and hotels and residences and this whole area continues to transform, being here early and being here to, sort of, ride the wave of the neighborhood – we really hope it will pay dividends and look forward to being one of the anchors of that part.
As for the Sky’s previous home, Fox mentioned that will it served as a nice home, it was simply time to go forward with something new.
The Allstate Arena’s a great place. And it has been a great arena for a long, long time – and it will continue to be. It just seemed like this was going to be the best fit for us as we, kind of, move forward with this next iteration of the Chicago Sky.