It was a moment Kara Bachman craves. After endless hours of paperwork, plans and preparation, the executive director of the Chicago Sports Commission was standing watching the 2015 International Triathlon Union (ITU) World Triathlon Grand Final. It was an event she had envisioned for months, and it had finally come to fruition. Before her were team members from all over the world, all wearing uniforms proudly bearing the colors and flags of their home country, that had all converged in Chicago. Behind Bachman was the city’s gorgeous skyline, sparkling brightly against the setting sun.
“Everything we had hoped for was accomplished in that moment,” she says. “It was a shining example of international visibility. Knowing that pictures of this beautiful scene were being shared all around the world, with the message that Chicago is a pretty amazing place to be, was almost overwhelming to think about.”
Countless planners, just like Bachman, are also finding that Chicago is a pretty amazing place to be. In May 2017, Chicago officials projected that the total number of visitors had tallied a record 10.5 million in the first quarter, placing the city in a prime spot to reach Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s goal of 55 million visitors annually by 2020.
The glaring commonality is that a good amount of those visitors are, in fact, big-time sports fans—and catering to them has been a high priority for city officials who have been working overtime to secure some of the country’s (and world’s) biggest sporting events.
By the conclusion of 2017, Chicago will have hosted everything from the NHL Draft to the MLS All-Star Game to the Department of Defense (DoD) Warrior Games. In recent years, the city has also welcomed the NFL Draft and is not totally dismissing the idea of someday going after the Olympics again. “Showcasing Chicago through sports is what we do best,” Bachman says.
Here are just some of the sporting events that are keeping Chicago competitive as a tourist destination.
LOUIS VUITTON AMERICA’S CUP WORLD SERIES CHICAGO
This intense racing circuit features some of the best sailors in the world competing on 45-foot catamarans, and the planners that worked to prepare it agree that the America’s Cup World Series Chicago was one of their most amazing success stories from last summer.
The event drew in participants from 150 countries and had a global reach of nearly 5 million viewers. It also generated a total economic impact of $41.6 million, as well as opened up 429 new temporary jobs and booked 8,000 hotel nights. “It truly hit on every cylinder from a sports perspective,” says Bachman. “Nearly 200,000 people from 48 states and 23 countries watched it here live and millions watched from around the world. It was a great event model, and we are working to make sure we bring the World Series Finals back.”
The event also left behind 8 Hobie Wave Boats that now have permanent homes in Chicago and will be utilized for years to come.
After 50 years in New York, Chicago landed the NFL Draft in 2015 and 2016. “It was the first time [we did anything like this], so it was one of those moments where we weren’t sure if anyone would show up,” laughs Bachman. “But we should have known that the NFL has a triedand-true following.”
The 2016 NFL Draft in fact resulted in $88 million in increased economic activity in Cook County and created 916 new jobs in the area, primarily in the food services, retail, hospitality and event promotions industries. It also generated an estimated 21,833 hotel nights in the local area from out-of-town visitors. “It was a huge win for us because we were competing with Los Angeles, another Tier 1 city,” recalls Bachman, saying her office was able to tout differentiating elements that Chicago had to offer. “The NFL was looking for something new and different, and having all the public lands to work with really appealed to them. The central location made sense, and they truly relied on our partnership. In the future, we certainly want to keep going down that road with them.”
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
As for upcoming plans, the work is never done, says Bachman. “We are actively pursuing [events for] 2018 and 2019 and, for that matter, 2020,” she says, noting that many she cannot discuss openly just yet. “What I can say is that we are actively pursuing many events that we have seen success with in the past along with other major league, marquee events.”
Though they all turn out to be huge successes in the end, Bachman notes every single event is not without its challenges.
“These events don’t fit in a neat box. There is always a discussion we have to have about feasibility and logistics and operations,” says Bachman. “And there are only 100 days in the summer [where we can take advantage of the weather]. With that limited amount of time, we do come across people and events that want to take over; they want to be the only fish—and the biggest fish.” And that’s just not always possible.
There is also the increasing focus on security, and mitigating Chicago’s some - times-negative image due to national cover - age of ongoing crime. “We take safety and security very seriously and we are always learning how to stay as safe and secure as pos - sible,” says Bachman, noting there was not a single incident at the NFL Draft in either year. “Sometimes everything good happen - ing in Chicago can be overshadowed by so much negative media attention. But the events and companies that we are working with do their homework. They know we are an urban area and they know what comes with that. But as long as we continue to accomplish their goals and surpass them, we are on a winning track.”
It’s not only the sporting events that Chicago has to offer, but also great sporting venues. Two of them are going through massive construction to come out bigger and better in 2018, and in the end will have event spaces planners can take advantage of for a variety of meetings and events.
Long before the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, plans were in place for a complete renovation of the area around Wrigley Field. In 2018, some of the biggest pieces of this renovation will finally come to fruition. Specifically, the seven-story, 175- room Hotel Zachary at the northwest corner of Clark and Addison that will also play host to event spaces and restaurants groups such as One Off Hospitality, 4 Star Restaurant Group, Folkart Restaurant Management and West Town Bakery.
A New Rosemont Minor League Baseball Stadium
This to-be-named, publicly owned, $55 million dollar, 6,300-seat stadium is set to open in 2018 and will play host to a new independent league baseball team in Rosemont.