Column: Fans return to WNBA All-Star weekend in full force, but organizational blunders cause frustration

Column: Fans return to WNBA All-Star weekend in full force, but organizational blunders cause frustration

Women’s basketball legends, Sheryl Swoops and Don Staley, sat courtside Sunday as the WNBA All-Stars hit the grounds of the Wintrust Arena in front of a boisterous and lively crowd.

Retired veterans Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles received flowers after the first quarter. Chicago-area resident Candice Parker and Sky teammate Courtney Vanderslott received the highest welcome from the home crowd.

But despite the festive atmosphere among the 9,572 fans inside the arena, some missteps overshadowed the league’s first All-Star Weekend in Chicago.

There was no shortage of demand to watch Sunday’s game. According to ticket marketplace Vivid Seats, the average ticket price in the secondary market was $164, the highest price for a WNBA All-Star game in the past five years — and 64% more than the second highest price.

But unlike in years past, fans were not invited to Saturday’s 3-point and skill competitions. Instead of holding events at the Wintrust Arena, which was committed to hosting the Nike Nationals girls’ high school basketball tournament, the league organized them inside McCormick Venue with temporary playgrounds and bleachers.

As Sky’s Allie Quigley made history by winning the 4th 3-point competition, Sky fans have come down to watch it on TV. The team invited “Premium Select” season ticket holders to a viewing party at a hospitality area within McCormick Place. Other fans were expected to hang out at WNBA Live — an outdoor fan festival held in the McCormick Place parking lot — while events took place in the empty convention center.

The fans who attended during Saturday’s competition were young basketball players competing in the Nike Nationals, and many seemed less interested in what was going on on the field.

After two seasons affected by the COVID-19 pandemic — there was no All-Star game in 2020 and attendance was limited last year — WNBA fans were excited to return to the All-Star celebrations this weekend, with several flights booked from across the country at once. One Chicago. He was announced as host in late April.

But it seems that they are the only ones planning ahead. Other parts of the planning — including schedules and locations that weren’t released until the night before the events — also dampened the festivities.

“When we chose Chicago as the venue for the All-Star Game, we knew we wouldn’t be able to get the Wintrust Arena (on Saturday). WBA commissioner Kathy Engelbert, when asked before Sunday’s game about the frustration of fans surrounding Saturday’s events, was committed to Indeed.” “Given that, when we found out the Nike Nationals would be here, we took this great opportunity to incorporate youth elite sports into our 3-point and skill competitions, so the competition wasn’t out there.

“There is also a lot going on in our world around security and even having an outdoor festival at this very crazy time where you see shootings and people driving to restaurants with outdoor goers and things like that. So while we were planning last fall We’ve been trying to find the best thing to do to try and stand at least a little bit in an outdoor festival, to have an encouraging festival element. We still have COVID in there. So, putting together everything that’s going on and coming off a tough two years of COVID and no Wintrust yesterday, we didn’t. There could never have been a fan event.

“We didn’t have a circuit that could happen here in the city of Chicago. I understand the fans are frustrated not to have that, but then again, last year we weren’t 100%, the year before we didn’t have an All-Star game, so we’re kind of trying to build everything- It’s going to look like a stellar weekend. We’re just trying to do our best with the cards we’ve got this year.”

A Wintrust Arena spokesperson said discussions to host the Pampered Chef Conference began before COVID, and the contract was signed in May 2021. The WNBA contract for the All-Star Weekend in Chicago was signed in April 2022, with discussions to begin in December 2021.

Fans weren’t the only ones feeling left out of the festivities. All of the 3-point and skill participants were either already in Chicago, like Quigley and Sky teammate Azura Stevens, or were coming to Chicago to play Sunday’s game. Los Angeles Sparks’ Lexi Brown, who tied for ninth in the league by three throws this season, joked on Twitter that she would have paid for her airfare to enter the competition.

All-Stars is about the players, but it’s also a celebration for the fans. Matches don’t count, but it’s a chance for fans to watch the league’s biggest stars gather in one spot.

With picturesque downtown Chicago as a backdrop and perfect summer weather on display, the WNBA managed to stifle what should have been a triumphant comeback for fans and missed an opportunity to win over more locals.

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