Starting a new professional sports team, even an NBA Developmental-League team, is no easy task.
Finding an arena to host games--and a fanbase to fill its seats--is a battle in itself.
Chicago’s new D-League team, The Windy City Bulls, are making northwest suburban Hoffman Estates its home base. The Sears Centre is right off the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90) at Route 59, in the heart of commuter country, home to the target demographic for the new franchise: young families.
The Chicago Bulls know a thing or two about marketing. Its merchandise sales are second only to the reigning NBA champions, and both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler’s jerseys are among the Top 10 most popular jerseys in the league. So when the team wanted to introduce the Windy City Bulls last Sunday, it rolled out the red (and black) carpet.
Fans had opportunities to take photos with the Bulls’ six NBA Championship trophies, and meet a player who earned three rings, Toni Kukoc. Not to mention constant entertainment provided by one of the biggest crowd pleasers, mascot, Benny the Bull. And, perhaps the most important part: It was free. Free parking, free admission and free entertainment. And more than 6,200 fans got tickets online beforehand.
The man tapped to run the new endeavor is Brad Seymour. The team’s new president is no stranger to minor league sports. He’s managed two minor league, one in the Cleveland Indians’ system and and another for the Houston Astros’.
One nice change for Seymour in the change from baseball to basketball: No rain delays, "I don't have to pull a tarp,” he said.
Based on a quick sampling of the crowd, it appears Seymour’s Bulls-backed sales pitch to those in attendance worked.
Megan Collier, of Cary, brought her three young children.
"We are definitely going to come back, and it is a bunch of fun for the kids and something positive to do," she said.
As for the basketball and the men who will make up the Windy City Bulls: Seymour says that’s up to the Bulls basketball operations staff.
"They will keep me in the loop, that is their job, and I am focused on everything off the court," Seymour said.
A roster will be formed in late summer and the season begins in November.
Cheryl Raye Stout covers Chicago sports for WBEZ. Follow her @crayestout.