NBA Arena Review: The United Center

United Center

Background on the United Center

The United Center is home to the Chicago Bulls. Built in 1994, it replaced the beloved Chicago Stadium. The United Center is the largest arena in the NBA in terms of capacity at 20,917. In addition to the Bulls, the arena also hosts the Chicago Blackhawks of the NHL, concerts, and various NCAA games from time to time.

The United Center is set to open a new 190,000 square foot addition during the 2017-18 season. This new complex will feature new team shops as well as office space for the Bulls and Blackhawks staff.

Affectionately known as the “Madhouse on Madison”, the arena saw its fair share of NBA moments. The Chicago Bulls won championships during the 96, 97, and 98 seasons when Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman completed the team’s second 3-peat. The arena also hosted the Bulls’ 2011 Eastern Conference Finals team which saw Derrick Rose win the 2011 MVP.

United Center Review

Location

David: This is my home town so I’m going to be tough. I’ve seen the Bulls at the United Center over 20 times according to Sports Passport (shout out to the sponsor). Located on the corner of Madison and Damen, the United Center resides in the city’s west side. It was built on one of the parking lots of old Chicago Stadium. Of the city’s four major sports arenas (Wrigley Field, Soldier Field, and Comiskey Park US Cellular Field Guaranteed Rate Field) the United Center’s location is arguably the worst.

First, the city of Chicago has one of the best mass rapid transit systems in the country. Apparently the city forgot to include a stop reasonably close to the United Center. The closest CTA train stop is 0.6 miles away or about a 15-20 minute walk. This isn’t terrible but when it’s 0°F in December and you’re trying to walk in your fresh Jordan XIs it sucks. There are buses that drop you off in front of the stadium. However, most people will drive to the United Center which causes lots of traffic on game day.

Second, since most people drive to the United Center there are LOTS of parking lots owned by the United Center owned and 3rd parties around the building. Because there are so many lots there are simply not enough things to do in the neighborhood around the arena.  Want to park there early and do some bar hopping or grab a bite to eat around the stadium? It’s not happening. Unlike Wrigley Field, most bars and restaurants are a mile away or more. Some do offer shuttles to the arena on game day.  My favorite bar is Output which has some of the best wings in the city. They are about a $4 Uber or Lyft ride to the United Center. If you do have to park, it’ll be expensive at around $20-30. But if you’re smart you’ll use this website to find free street parking around the area.

The United Center really missed an opportunity when they did their expansion. Around 2012 plans called for an entertainment complex to be built with restaurants, bars, and retail similar to LA Live for the Staples Center. Instead we got an office building.

Sherief: David is the expert on this one. As someone from the Midwest as well, I will say, the United Center’s location is fairly disappointing for such a big city like Chicago. The arena is not downtown or near anything exciting. On top of that, traffic was horrible in our Uber on game day. It was so bad we chose to just get out and walk a few blocks, which inevitably creased my Jordan’s. It didn’t help that it was cold too. Just not much going for the United Center in terms of location.

Amenities

David: Every year it seems like the United Center is adding something. On the main concourse you will find some Chicago mainstays such as Maxwell Street Polish dogs, Vienna beef hot dogs, Connie’s deep dish pizza, and even Big Star tacos. You can find Sweet Baby Rays BBQ, Goose Island pub, and Gibson’s Steakhouse also on the first level. Unlike most stadiums, the United Center does not skimp on the upper level concourse. It has four bars where you can get craft beer or cocktails and many of the same food options on the main concourse are found on the upper level as well. In my travels, the upper level concourse of the United Center is the clear cut winner.

Sherief: I sat in the upper level at this one (as I will continue to point out) but I was pleasantly surprised with the food options. I had a super solid burger, which is a rarity at stadiums. There were a ton of options in the upper level and when I either have too many or no options, I typically lean towards a burger.

David: Throughout the stadium there are lots of retail shops. A must visit is the “Bull Market” fan shop located across from section 117. Not only can you pick up some amazing Bulls swag like throwback Jordan jerseys, but you can view the Bulls’ six championship trophies…which for some reason always look kind of dirty with finger smudges and dried up champagne.

Sherief: Maybe the janitorial staff walks around with them at night?

Bulls Trophies at the United Center

Fan Experience

David: I’m a big fan of the experience at the United Center. You will find live music, face painting, caricature drawings, cheerleader autograph signings, and other fan activities during the pregame.  The presentation of the Bulls game is done in the “classic” style. They don’t have an emcee type announcer during games like the current trend around the league. There are lots of t-shirt giveaways and the Love-A-Bulls are one of the better NBA cheerleader squads. If the Bulls score more than 100 points and win the game, everyone gets a Big Mac!

Benny the Bull is the NBA’s greatest mascot. This is not a debate. He can dance hit tail off, makes it rain popcorn, rides a scooter, and hits no look half court shots. There’s a new “actor” that plays Benny this year but it doesn’t seem like he missed a step. The old actor was the former mascot of the University of Montana where he was a 2 time national mascot of the year.

Sherief: From an outside perspective, the Bulls have some of the most die-hard fans in the league that aren’t completely drinking Kool-aid all the time (looking at you Lakers and Knicks fans). I spent some time listening in on conversations around me and it seemed like everyone knew basketball. And not just from watching ESPN on a weekly basis, but genuinely understood the game. Of course, there is also the nostalgic factor that plays in at the United Center. You see all of the historic banners as you enter the stage and just imagine all of the history in that one arena. That said, you pay a premium for that experience. Finding reasonably priced tickets is not a thing at the United Center. So be prepared to pay a little more when attending.

David: Oh and let’s not forget the United Center has the greatest starting lineup introduction of all time. The official name of the “Bulls song” is Sirius by the Alan Parson’s Project. Visiting teams come out to the Imperial Theme from Star Wars (which is bad ass). The Bulls make use of the new court projection system which adds another fantastic element.

The video package, called Running of the Bulls, gets a makeover every couple of year and still causes goosebumps.

Aesthetics

David: The United Center was built to resemble old Chicago Stadium. Unfortunately, this gave the United Center a rather drab appearance. In order to correct this, the arena has made some cosmetic changes to the exterior. LED panels were added to the exterior of the building.  They look terrific at night. The new panels show that day’s current match-up, clips, etc. The concourse is very well lit and easy to navigate. Getting to the upper concourse only requires two escalators. The upper concourse is very spacious. Because of its high ceilings, you don’t feel like a sardine like other stadiums. There is also not a bad view from any seat in the United Center. If there is a knock, the scoreboard/jumbotron seems a bit small compared to other newer arenas in the NBA.

Sherief: For one of the older stadiums, it definitely didn’t feel like it. It was spacious and clean. There was enough things as you enter the stadium to focus on to keep your eyes off of what would potentially make the stadium look old. The trophies and the banners make up for any issues aesthetically. The seats in the upper level were a high climb, so it did feel like the court was further away than other stadiums I attended. Add to that to the price I paid for my upper level seat, it provided me with a little frustration. I spent most of the game dozing off at the banners anyways.

David: Inside you will also find the banners that Jordan and company won during his time here. Any visit to the United Center isn’t complete without paying homage to the GOAT. Did you know that statue was built after MJ’s first retirement? That means he played in this building, for another 3 championships, with a statue out front! The Jordan statue will stand inside the new addition once it opens next year.

Jordan Statue at the United Center

United Center Review Conclusion

Pros:

  • Great food
  • Terrific fan experience
  • Lots of Jordan nostalgia
  • One of the best upper level concourses

Cons:

  • Lack of public transportation
  • Lack of nearby restaurants, bars, activities
  • Expensive tickets

 

United Center Rating
Location Amenities Fan Experience Aesthetics Total Score
David 4 9 10 8 31
Sherief 5 8 9 9 31
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