Putting the horrendously overpriced Lions tour aside, we’re fortunate that up until the week of most games of sport around the country, you can still get a ticket. Not here. The United Center was sold out, standing room only for the top-of-the-division Chicago Blackhawks against the Boston Bruins.
Last September, I signed up for early bird ticket sales, having identified the last home game of the regular season as the raison d’être for my North American sojourn. Surely, with the game at the end of March, I’d have no trouble securing tickets this far in advanced, even taking into account that Chicagoans would’ve had five hours’ access to tickets by the time my alarm went off. Wrong. Tickets for the game, in fact for the whole season, were almost all sold out. My dream of sitting behind the players’ bench was over.
Instead, I opted for “Section 3, behind the goal.” Having never been to the United Center, I trusted the allocation and the price of the ticket ($121 USD). After taking two escalators, the seats were quite literally in the last seat in the very last row of the building. The players were tiny, but the bird’s eye view of the flow of the game was spectacular.
The surprise came with the number of standing supporters, having paid $100 for the privilege. The occasion – the last regular season game for their division-topping team – probably added to the demand and attraction. As the woman sitting next to me said, the tickets were notoriously difficult to get hold of. In her 40s, this was her first Hawks game, and even then, the tickets had been passed on from a friend suddenly unable to attend.
The recent success of the Hawks would help – or hinder, depending on your stance – with ticket sales and demand. But the knowledge of how difficult it is to secure tickets, and the cost of the “best seats in the house” had me thankful we haven’t reached the population nor peak sports mania of North America. It made trying to casually attend baseball or hockey in Toronto or Montreal near impossible.
Perhaps the higher cost covers the stadium experience. The security screening, the multiple well-stocked merchandise stores, the fast moving, copiously-manned bars, the actual sit down branded restaurants. I thought Australia did sports well. And they do, compared to us. America, though, is next level.
The cliched roaming beer sellers, bringing Bud Light to your seat, was novel, as was the live organist playing everything from Guns and Roses to Muse. But the real eye opener, the way I knew I was no longer in Auckland, was that with half an hour to go, the arena was less than a third full. Everyone was in their seats come puck drop, meaning everything from public transport and parking, to entry, to food and beverage outlets, were functioning effectively. There would be no talkback angst the following morning about logistical incompetencies resulting in missing the first 20 minutes.
The full American sports experience was delivered. We saw a proposal (she said yes), we honoured some veterans, and the pre-game ice projection was something to behold. But one of the best moments, which will long linger, was the national anthem. Jim Cornelius has as much notoriety in the Chicago region as the team itself. His deep tone, his exaggerated, climatic gestures to the flag and the way the crowd near-drowned him out, were reminders that, no matter how we may drag them, American patriotism is to be revered and respected.
I wish we were similar, both in our anthem-singing and game day experiences. If you’re a sports fan, an American game day has got to be on your bucketlist, even if you’re not familiar with any their leading sports. Everything is bigger in America.
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