Never thought I'd be writing this again, but…

On Friday, Amy & I attended the home opener for the Chicago Rush. Yes, an Arena Football game! Given that the AFL canceled the 2009 season, it had been 642 days since we last saw the Rush play. What happened with the AFL? Stay tuned for a future blog post where I explain everything in layman's terms, because a lot of friends and family are asking the same thing!

Steve, Amy, and Dad... back at a Rush game

Anyway, this was the second game of the season for the Rush, having come off their opener which they won on the road against the Iowa Barnstormers, 61-43. Given the skeptical approach I had on this reborn version of the Arena Football League, we didn't renew our season tickets. Instead, we're taking a "wait and see" approach and going with the cheap seat approach on a per game basis, just to see how Rush 2.0 works in the greater scheme of things.

It's been a while!

We attended the game with my Dad and sat up in the good 'ole cheap seats of section 214 at Allstate Arena… upper level, east endzone, second row. Tickets were $10 a piece, which were an increase over the $8 that the Rush had been charging for the same seats in 2008. It was odd to step into the routine again after a long hiatus… even though I did attend a few Chicago Slaughter games last season with the "Slush" roster.

Looking down upon the field

I'm not much of a tailgating fan, but we did get to the game about an hour before it started. Gave me a chance to walk around and see what was new, what was different, and just observe how this new incarnation of the Rush was doing. As many of you know, when I attend sporting events, I tend to be interested more in the marketing/promotion and overall experience angle vs. the X's and O's. Don't get me wrong, I do care what happens on the field and am not afraid to yell at my team if they screw up, but I think a lot can be said about an organization by looking at how they handle things away from the field.

Gladiators vs. Rush

Yes, we watched through a net

The most glaring observation one can make about Chicago Rush 2.0 is that they are definitely in need of sponsors. Additionally, those sponsors they do have signed don't seem to be of the "blue chip" caliber that we saw back in 2008, as much as can be said of a minor-tier sports league. I always like to take a look at the advertisers on the sideboards as a good indicator regarding the health of a team. Each year in the past I have taken photos and provided commentary on these sponsors; here's my last take in 2008 during a Chicago/Dallas game. I'd say most of those sponsors are long gone in 2010, namely Discover Card, Motorola, Champs Sports, Jim Beam, and obviously ESPN.

Here's a look at the sideboards as they stood during the Rush home opener, starting with the north side of the field (typically, the more expensive side due to television exposure):

Right off the bat we have a half-panel that hasn't been sold. It was just a blue wall. I don't think I've ever seen that at a Rush game in recent memory!

Mountain Dew
Ah, Mountain Dew (or as they now spell it, "Mtn Dew"). Actually, Pepsi has the official beverage rights for Allstate Arena, and given that Mountain Dew is a Pepsi brand, this is not unexpected. I would imagine that stadium rightholders get signage as part of their deals, with the opportunity to purchase beyond their "freebies."

Lest I remind you of the name on the building… Allstate Arena. Allstate is a local company, and in recent years they've been switching out their dark blue logos with their newer logos that have more of a light blue color and a gradient on the "hands" icon. But I still buy my car insurance from State Farm!

Grand Victoria Casino
When the going gets rough, the rough seek advertising from gambling establishments. In this case, the Grand Victoria Casino in sorta-nearby Elgin, IL. Always remember, kiddies, that casino riverboats have paid for your education, thus providing us with no funding issues whatsoever in Illinois. Oh wait…

In previous years, Popeyes only had signage in the endzones, so this is probably considered an upgrade as far as placement is concerned. They are showing their newer logo and wordmark, however, so you have to love that chicken!

Gatorade is another Pepsi-owned brand… and it has taken a beating in the past few years thanks to some pretty ridiculous marketing moves by the parent company. Seriously, who thought that the "G" campaign was a good idea? Definitely not Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano. Which brings me to my next point… where is the "official AFL water" Le Vai in all this? Nowhere to be found. Maybe they couldn't lock down a deal.

Gridiron Greats
You can thank Mike Ditka for this ad as part of his ownership stake. Per the Chicago Sun-Times when he bought into the "new" Rush, "One of the reasons Ditka agreed to join the Rush and continue his involvement with the arena team was to use the relationship to promote his Gridiron Greats organization that benefits former NFL players in need." This branding is found midfield.

Bank of America
Bank of America returns (even though I still think they are evil). However, they downsize their advertising from the entire back wall of the East Endzone (which is now unsponsored) to just sideboards.

Another Allstate ad, to provide balance to the other size of the field, I guess. I may have liked President Palmer in all those episodes of 24, but I'm still not switching my insurance!

Another local sponsor steps up in the shape of Buona, which is a brand for an chain of Italian beef, pizza, and salad places around Chicagoland. It's a pretty established brand that just opened a location near Allstate Arena, so it's a logical fit.

Hey look, it's another Popeyes sideboard. Rememeber how I mentioned they had a new logo? The folks over at Brand New explain it in more detail if you are a design nerd.

Bud Light
Can you guess who holds the beer rights at Allstate Arena? Yup, and Bud Light is part of that. Did you know it's the #1 domestic beer, with $5,081,880,000 in sales in the past year? That's more than twice the #2 brand, Budweiser (even though part of same parent company). Interestingly, Bud Light had previously advertised on the floor area past the East Endzone… but not anymore. There is no sponsor there now.

Pepsi Refresh Project
It's another Pepsi ad, this time for the Pepsi Refresh Project. It's a social-media based initiative that Pepsi kicked off when they decided to pull the plug on their Super Bowl advertising.

Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse
This is another local Chicago eatery. Gibsons has a location downtown, a new location coming to Oak Brook, and finally a Rosemont spot… which is close to the Arena. Again, a logical "hey, come and eat here before/after the game" type ad.

Let's jump over to the less popular south side of the field… the part that never really gets seen by cameras and tends to have a cheaper level of advertising…

That's right, this space for a half-width ad has nothing at all.

And right next to the blank panel… is another blank panel. Remember how I mentioned that the Rush needed sponsors? Here's some evidence.

Sheraton Chicago O'Hare
It's a local hotel, the Sheraton Chicago O'Hare, a location that gets a lot of airport usage. And given that Allstate Arena is right near the airport, duh, this makes sense. Oh, and here's your piece of Disney trivia… Sheraton's parent company operates the Swan and Dolphin hotels down at Walt Disney World thanks to a really weird piece of Disney history.

CORT Furniture Clearance Center / Second Time Around Furniture
Returning Rush sponsor, CORT specializes in rental furniture, along with relocation and previously leased items. There's also a mention of another brand, Second Time Around Furniture. I'm not sure about the relationship between the two organizations, but their sideboard ad looks like someone just photocopied a business card and clicked "enlarge"… because how in the world can you read that?

Impact Networking
Impact Networking is a returning Rush sponsor, and last time around I got on their case for not really branding the sideboard with a website address. This time around, however, you can easily find the oddly-phrased Per their website, "For nearly a decade Impact has helped vastly different businesses meet the same high-functioning needs, providing leading-edge systems, support and technology." They just signed a long-term sponsorship deal with the Rush… and oddly enough, their website also lists them as sponsors of the AFL Milwaukee Fire.

The sideboard features a photo of grass and skyline, with the URL Their website notes that "Curtis. [Editor Note: they apparently add the period] is a progressive marketing agency that brings great creative and compelling messages together in ways that speak precisely to audiences." Did you get all that?

Gridiron Greats
And we're back with another Gridiron Greats sideboard at midfield, on the other side of the field.

Just how many sideboards are we going to attribute to Mike Ditka? Next up is an ad for Ditka's Restaurants, with two locations in the Chicago area and one in… Pittsburgh?

Windy City Limousine
Ever wonder who was the "Official Transportation Company for the Chicago Rush? Windy City Limousine… so get get yourself a stretch SUV today! Transportation costs are one of the vital issues in the new AFL, especially when you debate bus vs. plane.

Impact Networking
It's another sideboard for Impact Networking. Apparently, they want to make sure they make an impact on both sides of the field.

Advanced Occupational Medicine Specialists
A returning Rush sponsor. From their website: "Advanced Occupational Medicine Specialists is an Occupational and Sports Medicine practice that uniquely incorporates primary care and sports medicine trained physicians, physical therapists, occupational therapists and athletic trainers. Our clinics provide medical services to over 400 companies in the Chicagoland area, as well as, nine sports medicine affiliations including the 2006 Arena Bowl Champions Chicago Rush professional arena football team."

Bud Light
Yes, another Bud Light ad.

And why not wrap things up with a black space…

… and another blank space.

Let's not forget the endzones boards, starting with the east endzone…

Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago's "other" paper, the Chicago Sun-Times is under new ownership, but they still maintain their Rush sponsorship in the endzone!

When your transit systems are underfunded, cutting service, and are raising fares… what should you do? Why sponsor Arena Football, of course! Pace is the suburban bus system in the Chicagoland area, complimented by the CTA in the city and Metra commuter rail.

In previous years, the wide space making up the wall in the East Endzone has been sold to advertisers, including LaSalle Bank and Bank of America. This time around… just a blurb for the new Rush website URL,… and it still cracks me up that they had to go with that vs. the old address, I'm sure there's some sort of petition with ICANN over that mess!

AAA is back as a Chicago Rush sponsor, though I haven't had the need to be towed lately.

Soccer City
New to the sideboard sponsor list is Soccer City in Palatine, the "official practice facility" of the Rush. And now you know!

Hopping over to the west endzone…

Kostas Gyros
Nothing quite says you are slumming it for advertisers like signing up a gyros place… Kostas Gyros, "Now in 2 locations!"… Palatine and Algonquin. Plus the Algonquin has a Private Party Room, so how can you go wrong?

Prairie Stone Sports & Wellness Center
Next up is the Prairie Stone Sports & Wellness Center in Hoffman Estates, which would seem to be a more logical sponsor for the Chicago Slaughter over at the Sears Centre.

Six Flags Great America
Ah yes, good ole Great America, owned by a company that prides itself in non-themed attractions, poor upkeep, parks that just close… oh, and bankruptcy. More Flags, More Fun!

RAM Restaurant & Brewery
The Chicago Rush post-game parties are always held at RAM Restaurant & Brewery in Rosemont. So drink and be merry!

And finally, we wrap things up by looking at the ad locations on the field itself. The Chicago Rush playing surface can accommodate 8 removable ad spots. Currently, there are only 3/8 in use.

West Endzone
This was previously populated by Discover Card, and before that, McDonalds.

East Endzone
Again, previously populated by Discover Card and McDonalds.

Left of Center Field Logo
Hey, it's Pepsi, and their fantastic new logo [Snark!]

Right of Center Field Logo
Ah yes, the folks who dumbed down the AFL jersey designs even more than humanly thought possible. Gotta give them some ad space! Thanks Russell!

Left Side of Field, Top
There's nothing there.

Left Side of Field, Bottom
Again, a blank slate. Sad.

Ride Side of Field, Top
Pace returns once again to remind you to ride them to the game and home… unless of course they aren't running late service on a Friday night… which is probably the case.

Ride Side of Field, Bottom
This space for rent.

Top of Sideboards
Does Pace really have that much money to spend, because they landed the top of the sideboards as well!

And that wraps up our look at advertising at the start of the Rush 2010 season. To say that it needs help is an understatement!

Now let's talk about the game itself. The introduction video/pregame "show" was toned down considerably. I think they recycled an animated video of the Rush mascot for use on the video screens. Then they cut in footage of Coach Ho talking on NFL Network the previous week.

Pregame show


No longer the "SoBe Adrenaline Rush Dancers" (SoBe discontinued making that drink a few years ago!)

The inflatable "Rush helmet" is back for the teams to run through, but gone are the flames that were a large part of this intro. Instead we had limited pyrotechnics and a long, drawn out introduction. The stadium announcer (Shawn) has returned from the Rush 1.0 days, which was a welcoming sound to hear.

It's Beth!

One surprising and exciting return was Beth as the Promotions Emcee. She was the emcee for years on the field, but then stepped aside in 2008 to become a mom… and we got horrible, horrible Tiffany who would wear very odd stuff and frankly had zero stage presence. I launched the "FakeBeth Clothing Watch" to chronicle her odd clothing choices. But it doesn't matter now, because Beth is back! And the fans responded accordingly at the announcement, which was nice. (Beth gave me a pizza at a game once — while she was pregnant — so I'll always root for her!)

East Endzone attendance check: 8,075 was the reported attendance for this game

Now let's talk about attendance, shall we? Not surprisingly, it wasn't a packed house in the 14-15,000 range we had seen in years past. In fact, the official reported attendance was 8075. You have to go back to 2002 season (the 2nd for the Rush) to see numbers that low. As I have done in the past, we'll be shooting photos of the East Endzone to provide a look at the overall attendance of the building based on that sample size.

Where is everyone?

Needless to say, a lot of the upper balcony areas were pretty much empty, including where our season tickets used to be. Granted, when the Rush launched the first time around, we didn't have the IFL Slaughter or CIFL Cardinals in town to suck up "indoor football entertainment" dollars. In any case, not a surprise that the team is now pushing partial season tickets and flex plans.

Clear Wireless sponsored this Zorb race

Pepsi & The Abby Resort sponsored this throwing game

Did you know that .bz is the domain country code for Belize?

The promotions during the game were back, in less quantity than we've seen in the past. What was interesting about them is that very few had actual sponsors attached to them, but rather were oriented along the lines of "win tickets to the next game." It would seem to be the case of them "showcasing" the types of promos that could be done in the hopes that a sponsor came on board.

More fans needed!

As far as the game itself, it was a bit eerie to watch. The atmosphere was rather dead for probably the entire first half of the game, with very little crowd participation. Maybe that was reflective of the mistakes both teams were doing and the abundance of penalties being thrown around. I mean, it's sad when the place is so dead that I don't even feel like cracking a sarcastic comment! Personally, I felt that the quality of plan had suffered with the reduction in player salaries — most players are making $400/game with just a few pulling in $1000/game. With that type of pay, you are going to get the type of person who plays "on the side" vs. as a career, and as such, aren't going to have the quality gameplay we saw in the old AFL.

The "Party Deck" was unsponsored

The overall "feel" of Allstate Arena picked up in the second half and was greatly helped by the crazy tackle by Rush kicker Chris Gould. With the game going back and forth so much due to sloppy play and very little in the way of "breakout" moments, it was pretty hard to get excited… plus, when only 8000 are at the game, you also don't have that "mass noise" that Rush games had been known for. By the end of the game, when the score was tied and time was running out, then the crowd finally got loudish.

A blurred shot of Dancin' Steve

Oh, it was good to see Dancin' Steve back.

In the end, while it was good to have the Rush "back" (however you want to interpret that), something still felt missing. The overall experience felt like a shell of what it used to be, though it had traits that were similar. The Rush have obviously gone with a strategy of "familiarity" by brining back familiar names… coaches, players, staff, game attributes, etc. But in the end, what that really does is open you up to comparison with what was. Now, granted, I'm a critical guy and probably know more than the average fan when it comes to how we got into this mess in the first place, so that colors my opinion.

Rush win, 59-56

Heading home

I'm hopeful the situation improves as I'd like to see the team succeed, despite my misgivings with the change in ownership. In any case, I'll be back for the next game… in the cheap seats once again. It will be interesting to see what (if any) changes are made for the next home game.

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