On the shores of Lake Michigan sits one of America’s most storied and culturally diverse metropolitan destinations. As host to many of the world’s greatest sports events, the City of Big Shoulders has cemented itself as a major player on the global stage.
The Second City is an overall first pick when it comes to world-class events. Some of the largest and most prestigious venues, along with the famous teams that call them home are found here.
Marquee venues are perennial favorites, chosen sites of national and international sporting events year in and year out.
For the last two off-seasons, Chicago has hosted the National Football League Draft at the historic Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University and expanded to the 900,000-square-foot Draft Town in neighboring Grant Park and Congress Plaza on Michigan Avenue. Welcoming more than 220,000 visitors over three days, “Draft Town” featured youth football clinics, shopping, autograph sessions and participatory games to build the hype of the beginning of football season.
Soldier Field is the iconic lakefront home of the NFL’s Chicago Bears, but the 90-year-old stadium has hosted a number of unique events, including the NHL’s Stadium Series in 2014. The outdoor game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins attracted more than 62,000 fans who came to see two of the league’s best teams take to the ice as snow started to blanket the field, reminiscent of the way hockey was first played.
The famous field has also hosted the International Rugby Board World Cup Champion New Zealand All Blacks, who took on the USA Eagles in November of 2014. Soldier Field was sold out for the New Zealand team’s first trip to the Windy City. The event was such a success that rugby is returning to Chicago when the All Blacks return to play this November in The Rugby Weekend, which will feature both the Eagles and Ireland national team.
Moving indoors, basketball runs deep in Chicago’s veins, from its professional team, the Chicago Bulls, to top-notch high school players who go on to NCAA stardom and NBA fame. The United Center, a staple in hosting major events, has been the home of the Big 10 Conference Basketball Championships five times since the turn of the millennium. The 20,000-seat arena was a popular venue for the powerhouse conference, setting the stage for the national tournament in early spring, most recently in 2015 and 2013. The five-day men’s event in 2015 featured 13 games between some of the country’s best collegiate basketball programs.
For the first time ever, Chicago will host the NHL draft in 2017. 15,000+ fans will join club executives, scouts and media personnel who will flock to the United Center for two days in June. The success of two NFL drafts made Chicago a top pick for the hockey sweepstakes, and the event is expected to bring in fans and professionals from across the globe.
The United Center will also host the Division I Men’s NCAA Frozen Four, the championship and semi-final rounds of the collegiate hockey tournament in April of 2017, capping off the 16-team single-elimination tournament. It will be the first time the NCAA’s final rounds of hockey will call the 960,000-square-foot United Center home.
The country’s largest convention center, McCormick Place, will host the Winter Volleyball Championships in January 2017 after 400 teams competed there in 2016. The three-day event will feature N3T Volleyball teams competing for the top spot on several courts spanning the convention floor of Lakeside Center at McCormick Place. In 2016 it filled the 300,000-square-foot hall with two waves of competition on the first two days and the playoffs on the final day.
McCormick Place will also host the Adidas Windy City National Qualifier, which boasted 850 teams in 2016. The girls’ volleyball event will take place over three days in April 2017, put on by the Great Lakes Region of USA Volleyball. Seventeen different divisions from ages 12 to 18 took to the courts in 2016 over three days on 124 courts. The event also included a high-performance tryout for the USA Volleyball team in 2016 giving girls a chance to play for the national team.
Long considered one of the top scouting events for the college level, the NIKE Tournament of Champions attracts girls’ basketball teams from across the country. In 2016, 530 teams competed in the event at McCormick Place over four days. College coaches from across the country come to watch this event, the largest single venue team event of its kind in the world. NIKE’s Elite Youth Basketball League participates in the event, and it is also one of only four NIKE-sponsored girls’ events in the country.
One of the world’s largest foot races, the Chicago Marathon attracts runners from all 50 states and more than 100 countries, all racing to cross the finish line in Grant Park. The three-day event includes a health and fitness expo, an international 5k race, wheelchair and handicycle races, and, of course, the marathon, which is a USA Track & Field qualifier for the Boston Marathon. The 26.2-mile route takes runners through some of the city’s most historic and prestigious neighborhoods, including the Loop, Gold Coast and Lincoln Park.
From youth tournaments to events at the top professional level, Chicago has solidified itself as a world-class event destination. To learn more about hosting an event in Chicago, visit sportsillinois.com.