Chicago is home to a vibrant sports community, and you don't have to be from Chicagoland to have heard of the White Sox, Blackhawks, Cubs, Bulls or Bears.
The White Sox won the World Series in 2005, and the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010. The Chicago Bulls and "Da Bears" have always had a strong and passionate following due to their successful track record. The Cubs, on the other hand, aren't so lucky, but they still have a great fan base.
Whether the Chicago teams are winning or losing, the fans in Chicago are some of the most passionate in the country. And nobody knows why better than AJ Maestas.
AJ Maestas is the President and Founder of Navigate Research. Navigate Research is the industry leader in research, measurement, and analysis of sponsorship in sports and entertainment. This Chicago based company specialises in custom market research studies and sponsorship valuations, which is important for anybody who is looking at investing into a sports sponsorship.
AJ is a self-proclaimed Huskies fan, but he knows the ins and outs of the Chicago sports scene better than anybody.
"Chicago has very passionate fans, a long history of winning and a heavy sports scene for both college and professional sports teams due to being a large market city surrounded by smaller market college towns," AJ explained. "There is definitely a rich history of success with the Bulls and Bears, and some recent success with the Blackhawks and White Sox, which helps drive this passion."
The Chicago Blackhawks were founded in 1926 and have won four Stanley Cups, and fourteen division titles. The first time they claimed the cup was in 1961, and most recently they took home the cup in 2010. The Chicago Blackhawks are part of the original six NHL teams. The other five are the Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, and Toronto Maple Leaves.
Part of the American League's Central Division, the Chicago White Sox swept the Houston Astros in the World Series in 2005. The White Sox were the team of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, Carlton Fisk, and Jim Thome. Although they were originally the Sioux City Cornhuskers dating back to 1894, the White Sox have been based in Chicago since 1900.
A great thing about Chicago is that a team doesn't have to be a winning one to have a strong fan base.
"Fans are passionate and very loyal. Look no further than the Cubs as the example of a fan base that stands behind their team, even when their performance is poor," says AJ. "Most people would probably be surprised at how close in size the Sox fan base is to the Cubs, but clearly the Cubs have a larger national fan base and show their support in attendance and TV viewership more."
The Chicago Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908. Third base coach, Mike Quaid, was promoted to head coach in late 2010 following the firing of Lou Piniella. We have yet to see if the new coach will do anything for lifting the "curse of the Billy Goat", which some people claim is what has kept the Cubs from winning the World Series. As the story goes, the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, Billy Sianis, was asked to leave the World Series game in 1945 against the Detroit Tigers, because the smell of his goat was bothering other fans. Billy supposedly declared "Them Cubs, they ain't gonna win no more," which some people have taken as the explanation for why the Cubs haven't been able to win the World Series.
But curse or no curse, the Cubs have a strong following, and some of them may even be fans of their rival team, the White Sox. "You would be surprised…the overlap in fan bases is high, even for the Sox and Cubs (just don’t tell that to a passionate fan)," AJ tells us. "Due to this fan overlap, camaraderie is at a high level. The only animosity is between Cubs and White Sox fans, but that’s really only witnessed during games where they are playing each other, otherwise it’s pretty dim."
As much as fan bases may over lap, just like in most cities, there's a sport, and a team, that's the most popular, and in Chicago AJ says it's the Bears.
"NFL is the most popular sport in Chicago, as is really the case in any large market," says AJ. "The NFL has just done a great job in becoming the marquee event every Sunday over the fall and winter, and some past success has resulted in larger and more passionate fans."
The Chicago Bears are a member of the NFC and have won 9 championships, including the Super Bowl in 1985. Originally named the Decatur Staleys, this NFL team was the company team for a food company from Decatur, Illinois. In 1921 the team moved to Chicago, and in 1922 they became the Chicago Bears. Holding onto their roots though, the Bears' mascot is the Staley Da Bear.
Some sports communities have been thriving, whereas others start to see some of the loyalty die off over the past ten years (a good example is the Buffalo Bills). We asked AJ Maestas how the sports scene in Chicago has evolved in the past ten years, and the answer may be a bit surprising.
"It hasn’t much, which is saying a lot. Ten years ago the major sports teams were all the same and that’s true of most of the second tier teams in town too, just very well established," explains AJ. "The reason not much has changed is because there hasn’t been sustained success on the field for any team over the last decade. The big news is probably the changes at the Blackhawks, as they have become one of the most popular NHL teams in the country, and the Cubs sales in the past ten years specifically."
You can go out and catch Blackhawks or Bulls at United Center, the White Sox at Cellular Field, the Cubs at Wrigley Field, and the Bears at Soldier Field, and be surrounded by passionate and loyal fans, but if the live sports scene isn't for you, AJ tells us you just have to hop into a bar.
"Any bar, anytime…I can’t think of a bar in Chicago without a TV that will be on sports."