By: Alex Patt
In my 27 years on this planet I have been to countless sporting events, mostly here in Chicago. One thing had stayed pretty consistent prior to 2020, the crowds at the games were always big. Whether attending games at Wrigley Field, United Center or Soldier Field, I had normally prepared for heavy congestion on the roads, in the stadium parking lots and in the stands.
Over the past few months, after going a year without attending any sporting events due to the pandemic, I have attended a Cubs game at Wrigley and a Blackhawks game at the United Center. Both stadiums were at 25% capacity (though I am not sure if all the 25% available seats at the United Center had sold out being the final game in a lost season). I had never been to either a Cubs or Blackhawks game where it the capacity was that low. Even in the mid-2000s when I started going to Blackhawks games in the pre-Stanley Cup days, it was not quite as empty.
I thought it would feel very empty and super weird going to these games, but honestly…it was pretty sweet.
As much as I love a full house of energized fans, being able to relax at a game with few people around you is a really nice feeling. Sometimes (for me personally) being elbow-to-elbow in the middle of a seating row can be a little stressful. Feels like a way out is difficult and you have to find just the right time to squeeze by people. It can also be irritating when others are constantly getting up and down to leave, and you have to tuck your legs in to let them get by every ten minutes. Plus if you need to use the restroom or find a concession stand, you might have to stand and wait a while. Not the case here.
If I needed to get up I could just get up and walk down the empty row and head to the concourse where there was virtually nobody. No lines to the bathrooms. No lines to the concession stands. No need to weave around hundreds of people just to navigate around the concourse. Plenty of space for you to stand if you just need to stretch a bit. Even the typical Blackhawks intermission bathroom/concession rush featured little traffic and no lines.
Not to mention the easiness of entering the stadiums. Normal days at both Wrigley and the UC when waiting in line to get tickets scanned could take a while. In 2019 in particular I remember waiting 30 minutes outside Wrigley just to get in on a very hot day. This year I just walked right up to the gates and was in the stadium lightning quick. Maybe two or three people in front of me and all we had to do was scan our phones at a scanner set up at the gates.
Leaving the stadium was very easy. At the United Center, it typically took 10-15 minutes just to get out of the congested parking lots and onto the Eisenhower Expressway. The past week when I went, it took maybe a minute, if even. If you have been to Wrigley, and have sat in the grandstands, you know how long it takes and how cramped it can be when trying to walk out of the park. That is probably one of my least favorite things about going to Wrigley. Being pressed against thousands of fans on a hot summer day moving at a snails pace inside the cavernous concourses of Wrigley Field is not the most pleasant thing in the world. This past Opening Weekend it took me like, 30 seconds to get out of the park with very few people around me. It was like walking in and out of a shopping mall. The streets were not nearly as crowded either so I did not have to play “Dodge People” like normal. Though, I pride myself on the fact that I have gotten pretty good at that game.
Now we talk about the fans themselves. I am not here to judge people’s fandoms, or who decided to go to sporting events, but lets be real…not everyone who goes to these games cares about what is happening. I feel the people who bought tickets to these games this year are the true die-hard fans as it felt like everyone in the small crowds were really into the action. Starting chants, standing and clapping for even the small things, cheering loudly when we scored, it was fun. Who says small crowds can’t bring energy? Both at Wrigley and at the UC, I felt like I was in a crowd that was much bigger than 25% just based on the energy and volume.
I understand a lot of this sounds like “First World Problems” and I am not saying I suddenly do not want to go to sporting events when things are normal again, but I just have to share my honest feelings. The experience at major Chicago sporting events with smaller crowds was something I thought was very enjoyable. I can get a little claustrophobic in massive crowds where escape is tough, and I admittedly can get a little impatient when lines inside and outside stadiums are long as hell. This is why these recent experiences really stood out to me.
This is kind of the advantage minor league sports has. I have been to plenty of Chicago Wolves and Kane County Cougars games in my time, and while those two usually draw very well for minor league sports, it is not like the Cubs, Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks or Sox experiences. I hope to attend those games again soon as well.
There are some things that were very much missed attending these games. Various concession and drink options were not available, you kind of had to stay within your own section of the park, constantly pulling up mobile apps could be kind of annoying and no fun giveaways. Thought I would be fair and mention that briefly, but it still was not that big of a deal.
It looks like full crowds are going to be coming sooner or later, and that is good. I will not say I am sad to see it again, I just have to say it was nice enjoying smaller capacity crowds while it was a thing.