Archive for the ‘Sports’ category

How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Ballpark, in Six Easy Steps

14 June 2013
Categories: Chicago, Sports

Stop me if you’ve heard this one…

Step 1: Acquire a professional sports team that plays in an aging but hallowed and much-beloved stadium.

Step 2: Declare the team incapable of financial solvency if it doesn’t receive a new stadium.

Step 3: Threaten to move the team out of town if it doesn’t get everything it wants.

Step 4: Hire a top-dollar design firm to create a stadium plan that pays lip service to “tradition” and “history” but satisfies neither.

Step 5: Demand millions of dollars in public funding to build the new stadium.

Step 6: Overhaul—or raze—the old stadium, replacing it with something that is both an architectural monstrosity and a soulless fan experience.

Am I joking? Let’s see…

Comiskey Park, built in 1910 for the Chicago White Sox. A classic of the early modern era albeit with its share of obstructed views. Itasca and Addison, Illinois are among the threatened move-to cities. The replacement, U.S. Cellular Field, is built at a cost of $167 million by the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, a government agency. For supposedly historical reasons, the new stadium puts home plate nearest 35th Street—since that’s where it was in Comiskey, which stood a block to the north. As a result, the view toward the outfield faces some of the city’s most notorious housing projects (now razed and vacant lots) instead of the spectacular skyline to the north. A dozen follow-up renovations in as many years can never fix that.

Soldier Field, originally built as a memorial to fallen American servicemen following World War I, and home of the Chicago Bears since 1971. After a proposal for a domed replacement tanks, Hoffman Estates and Aurora are floated as options. The Chicago Park District, which owns the stadium, pays about 62% of a $660 million renovation. The resulting transformation retains the original colonnades but dwarfs them beneath an enormous and incongruous silver alien-spaceship-looking structure. Meanwhile inside, the stadium *loses* 5,000 seats, so that after a two-thirds-billion-dollar reno it is the smallest in the NFL.

Of course, there’s always an exception to the rule… that being Chicago Stadium, home of the Blackhawks since its opening in 1929, and the Bulls since 1967. A grand old edifice and site of many historic events—but really not much more than a glorified barn. You know, the kind of place hockey is meant to be played in. Owners Reinsdorf (Bulls) and Wirtz (Blackhawks), neither one a saint, nevertheless do not (so far as I have found) threaten to pull out of town. They build the United Center without using public funds, getting only various tax breaks in return. I say “only” because the estimated $5 million per year in property tax savings seems a pittance compared to… say, Soldier Field’s cost to the rest of us taxpayers. And the UC is not a bad arena, though it’s much, much better for sports than it is for concerts.

So be prepared for the worst, Cubs fans. Because the Ricketts have already completed steps 1 through 5 like clockwork, as if they have read the Gimme a New Stadium Handbook cover to cover. Step 6 is inevitable. And as much as they want to pretend that their Wrigley Field overhaul will be sympathetic to the landmark structure, that it’s a “restoration” to some supposed (but unprecedented) historic ideal, that it’s all for our benefit, nothing about a massive Jumbotron is meant to improve the fan experience—it is purely for profit.

This for a team that is “incapable of financial solvency” (my words, but strongly implied by numerous public statements by the owners), despite having the highest operating income—and fourth highest revenue—in Major League Baseball.

The Trib’s Cheryl Kent wrote a well-reasoned overview of the Wrigley Field plan from an architectural and urban-planning standpoint, revealing that despite including several good improvements it suffers from a severe lack of authenticity and a shortsightedness that runs counter to any claims by the owners of being “in it for the long run.”

 

Not sure what to make of this

17 June 2010
Categories: Sports

In front of the hugely trendy and popular sports bar in my neighborhood, ESPN has parked a big customized flatbed truck. On the back is a giant LED monitor, airing their coverage of the U.S. Open, plus an up-to-date leaderboard.

Meanwhile, young, attractive ESPN flacks roam the block, carrying those mini-scoreboard-on-a-post things that follow pro groupings around—and those are updated too—while handing out free Pebble Beach 2010 / ESPN towels, the kind with the brass grommet and clip to hook onto a golf bag.

I usually want to boycott those companies that burn fuel to drive a billboard truck around town, or drag a banner behind an airplane trolling up and down the lakeshore… but I have to give these guys a little credit for the conceptual package.

À bientôt, Vancouver, it’s been fun — what we saw of you

1 March 2010

Every time the Olympic Games come to a close, there’s always that twinge of sadness, of let-down. It’s to be expected, for it is a melancholy moment when the torch is extinguished. As each Olympics has ended I’ve always felt the same way: “Is that all? Over so soon? It feels like we were just getting started!”

I used to think this feeling of dissatisfaction, of un-satiation, was normal—but no longer. I’ve come to realize that, along with exemplary sportsmanship, tales of tragedy and triumph, and edge-of-one’s-seat finishes, there’s another common factor to every Olympics I have ever watched: the dismal television coverage of the National Broadcasting Company. Read more…

Out of the Stone Age

24 February 2010
Categories: Sports

I am not a curler. I have never thrown a curling stone in my life, never even attended a match in person. My understanding of curling strategy is rudimentary at best. I am, suffice it to say, an armchair skip, and a cursory one at that.

But I’ve been a casual fan of curling for twenty years—and of the Olympics for even longer—and from this uninvolved distance, perhaps it’s easier for me to read the writing on the wall than it is for some of the players, as well as some of the decorated former champions doing the commentating at this year’s Games. Read more…