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  • Ashvin Lad

Wintrust Arena - DePaul Blue Demons

Photos by Ashvin Lad, Stadium Journey

Wintrust Arena FANFARE Score: 4.00

Wintrust Arena 200 E Cermak Rd Chicago, IL 60616

Year Opened: 2017 Capacity: 10,387


New Home of DePaul Basketball Doesn't Disappoint

Wintrust Arena, located in Chicago’s McCormick Square area in the South Loop neighborhood opened officially on October 14, 2017, with its first official sporting event taking place on November 11, 2017. The arena is the new home to both DePaul University’s men’s and women’s basketball teams of the Big East Conference; and it will be the future home to the WNBA’s Chicago Sky starting in 2018.

The arena, which broke ground on November 16, 2015 at a cost of $173 Million, offers a very intimate setting with a seating capacity of 10,387. Wintrust is a great stadium with excellent vantage points, comfortable seating, an array of food and beverage options, and a fun atmosphere located in the middle of a growing area in Chicago.

Food & Beverage 5

Between the 21st Street Express, the Cermak Grill, and the BBQ stand, Wintrust Arena offers a good, high quality, and tasty mix of traditional stadium as well as fast casual food along with a variety of beverages including beer and liquor.

As the main entrances are on the south side and on the east, via the walkway from the adjacent hotel, fans tend to be drawn to the first concession stand they see, the 21st Street Express on the east side of the arena. This causes longer lines, and a slower level of service, yet friendly nonetheless. Moving to the north side of the arena, fans will walk past a pop up bar selling beer and liquor on the east side, and then another bar in the northeast corner, which has a shorter line. On the south end stands both the Cermak Grill and the BBQ stand, which are away from the higher traffic areas and provide shorter and faster concession lines. All stands accept cash, credit, and debit.

Note that concession stands on the second level may not be open if attendance is small. However, concession stands are spread out enough allowing fans to get to their seats from the main level to the second level in a short amount of time.

Traditional stadium food such as hot dogs (both the Demon Dog and a Chicago style dog), sausages, and brats, as well as popcorn and nachos can be found at the 21st Street Express. The Cermak Grill offers up two different kinds of burgers, chicken tenders and pizza. And next door to the Cermak Grill is the BBQ stand that sells outstanding brisket, pulled pork, and sausage sandwiches. Pro Tip – get the coleslaw on top of the sandwiches and not on the side! The array of menu items allows for both affordable and higher priced food options. The sausage sandwich loaded with coleslaw is a must try.

The major soda brand at Wintrust Arena is Pepsi, which is available in fountain style. There are also sports drinks, water, and juices that are available in bottles. Miller Lite, Coors Lite, and Blue Moon are available at the concession stands as well as the two pop up bars. The pop up bars also offer an assortment of mixed drink options.

Atmosphere 4

Wintrust Arena provides for a very intimate atmosphere that a allows fans to be on top of the game.

With a very modern look on the outside, Wintrust Arena is a two-level stadium with a standard bowl seating layout on the inside. The seats are very comfortable with decent legroom and rows high enough to provide good sightlines for even the shortest of fans. The only issue with the seats are the cupholders, which are too small for a jumbo-sized fountain drink. The court, which is very close to the seats, displays a nice rendering of the Chicago skyline which faces the east side of the court (opposite of the team benches). Wintrust provides a large scoreboard above the court and ribbon scoreboards on each end of the court, all providing for very visible in game stats.

This may not hold true once the WNBA’s Chicago Sky start playing, but for the DePaul games, don’t expect much in-game entertainment or promotions, outside of the cheerleading team’s performance during time outs. However, the DePaul mascot, DIBS the Blue Demon, does make his way around the arena with much fan engagement. The in-game sound is at a perfect level to drive enthusiasm yet allow for normal level conversations with your seat neighbor.

With the close proximity to the court, there really is not a bad seat in the house. To get engaged with the student section, look to sit in the Demon Deck, which is the second level on the north end of the arena. The best view of the skyline rendering on the court would come from the east side of the arena, either on the main level or the second level, facing the benches. Seats in the main level will provide for more convenient concession access as the second level stands may be closed if there is a small attendance.

Neighborhood 5

Located just a few miles from Chicago’s central business district, Wintrust Arena, located in the McCormick Square area of Chicago’s near south side, is in the midst of a transformation from being solely an area for convention goers at McCormick Place to be a destination for food, sports, and entertainment. Already minutes from Chinatown, the area is seeing a rise of hotels and restaurants, and the city added an additional “El” stop for convenient access via public transportation. The area provides plenty of parking options via street parking or garages, but it is very accessible via the CTA Red Line (15 min walks from the Cermak/Chinatown) and Green Line (7 minute walk from McCormick Place) stops.

Located just miles from the central business district, there are plenty of restaurant options to serve any fan’s palate. If looking close to the arena, one can venture a mile west into Chinatown where some of the local favorites include MingHin, Phoenix, and Szechuan Cuisine. Closer to the arena one can find some of the best fried chicken and seafood in town at Chef Luciano’s. Other options include Windy City Ribs for BBQ, Pizano’s for pizza, and even White Castle. The surrounding hotels also include restaurant options inside their properties. For the craft beer fanatic, Lagunitas Brewery is just a few miles away in the Pilsen Neighborhood.

There are many attractions and entertainment venues to keep you busy outside of sports. Nearby attractions include the Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Museum of Science and Industry, the Art Institute of Chicago, Navy Pier, Willis Tower Observatory, and the John Hancock Observatory. One can also utilize Big Bus Tours as a quick and convenient method to see the city in a “hop on, hop off” manner. The Theater District is just a few miles north and host several Broadway shows via “Broadway in Chicago.”

There are plenty of hotel options at various price ranges. For convenience sakes, there are currently two hotels that are walking distance to Wintrust Arena – the Hyatt that is connected to McCormick Place, and the new Marriott Marquis which offers a walkway from the hotel directly into the arena. Additionally, there are three new Hilton properties that are under construction a few minutes away.

Fans 3

The fan base at Wintrust Arena is a mix of students, academia, and casual sports fans. With the arena being off campus, it may be difficult for it to consistently draw a large passionate student fan base.

Typical attendance may see the arena filled at 80% capacity, with this going up as schools in the area visit, such as Notre Dame, or consistently top ranked team like Villanova.

The crowd engagement is consistent throughout the game. You may see the crowd perk up on big plays, but otherwise it’s an audience that is paying attention to most of the game. The student section, The Demon Deck, shows the most excitement throughout the game.

Access 5

Wintrust Arena is one of most accessible stadiums in Chicagoland, in terms of getting to and from as well as moving around within.

Public transportation options include the CTA bus, CTA elevated train (The “L”), METRA commuter train, and Divvy bike ride share.

CTA Bus Routes: No. 3 King Drive is the most popular. Running north-south along Michigan Avenue, it drops off at Michigan and Cermak. No. 21 Cermak Road runs east/west and also stops at Michigan and Cermak. No. 4 Cottage Grove runs north-south along Michigan Avenue. It too drops off at Michigan and Cermak.

CTA L Lines: Green Line to the McCormick Place stop, which is 2 blocks to the west. Red Line to the Cermak/Chinatown stop, which is 4 blocks to the west.

Cost of a CTA ride is $2.25 with a $0.25 transfer fee if transfer is done within 2 hours of the initial ride. Cash and Ventra Card (for purchase at L stations) are accepted forms of payment on a bus whereas only Ventra Card or the Ventra App is acceptable for the L.

METRA Commuter Train: The Electric line runs from Millennium Station near Randolph Street in downtown Chicago to McCormick Place’s South Building.

Divvy Bike: Divvy is the local bike sharing program with hundreds of stands all over the city, including one at 2301 S King Drive and another one near the Green Line station.

Parking is available in 3 different lots at nearby McCormick Place – Lot A, Lot B, and Lot C, with Lot A being the closest to the arena and to the pedestrian bridge at the Marriott Marquis. Traffic flow may be slow if there is a convention going on at the same time as a game. Otherwise, traffic in that area should be good. Lot A - 2301 South Prairie Ave is a 6 level garage priced at $23 for up to 16 hours and $36 for 16 to 24 hours. Lot B, aka 31st Lot – 3050 South Moe Dr is an outdoor lot for $15 flat rate. Lot C – Fort Dearborn Drive is an underground lot for $23 flat rate.

There may be street parking options along the side streets of Cermak if a fan has the patience to drive around looking for one.

There are three points of entry into Wintrust Arena – the main gate on the south side, an entrance on the north side, and a walkway from the neighboring Marriott Marquis on the east side. During the cold winter months of college basketball, entry via the Marquis, allowing for an indoor wait, is recommended. This entrance and the main entrance, however, tend to move quickly with efficient security checks and ticket scanning. Fan looking to purchase a ticket at the arena can find the window just a few feet from the main entrance on the south side. Note to those looking to save money from an online convenience fee by buying in person – there is a $3 “facility fee” for buying at the ticket window.

While a compact setting, the concourses are wide enough to handle normal traffic flow, with the main level offering partial views of the court as a fan walks around. There is one bottleneck area which is on the main concourse on the southeast corner where the escalators from the lower level main entrance, pop up merchandise stand, entrance from the Marquis, the restrooms, and a concession stand all converge. The upper level, with less seating options, shows a better flow. Accessibility and seating for fans in need of assistance is more than sufficient, both in the seats, moving around the concourse, and in the restrooms.

Return on Investment 4

The overall return on investment for a visit to Wintrust Arena is a good one when considering transportation to and from, ticket price, concession, and the quality of play at times on the court.

For men’s basketball, DePaul offers variable pricing based on the opponent. For marquee matchups, prices range from $24 to $250 and for other games range from $18 to $200. Plan to spend between $15 and $18 for an entrée and a large fountain soda. From $2.25 on public transportation to a high of $23 for parking, pricing for transportation is very reasonable. Merchandise is priced well, but can probably be found for less at DePaul’s downtown campus store.

Groups of 15 or more can save $5 per ticket. In addition, a Big East only ticket package can be purchased. Cost savings can be found by taking public transportation to and from.

Extras 2

For a winter sport like basketball, being able to enter via the pedestrian bridge from the Marriott Marquis is very appealing. In addition, the neighborhood, with the arena as its new anchor, will continue to grow as new restaurant and hotel developments take off.

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