Amid growing popularity of women’s sports, Rosemont extends deal with pro softball league

An innovative women’s professional softball league that launched in Rosemont at the height of the pandemic is putting down deeper roots at the village-owned softball stadium, where it has inked a five-year lease extension.

Athletes Unlimited — featuring a roster of 60 players and 30 games across a five-week season in July and August — has found a home at Parkway Bank Sports Complex’s softball field along the Tri-State Tollway.

The village built the $6 million, 2,000-seat venue for the Chicago Bandits in 2011, but the Bandits’ National Pro Fastpitch league folded in 2020 just as the pandemic was taking hold. Around the same time, investors Jon Patricof and Jonathan Soros were getting ready to launch their new women’s sports league in Rosemont that August.

Cheri Kempf, a senior vice president at New York City-based Athletes Unlimited, said Rosemont “checked all the boxes” for the league’s home.

“The perfect situation — with the venue being built for professional softball — was not lost on us,” said Kempf, who had been National Pro Fastpitch’s commissioner for 15 years. “But I think for Rosemont, too, they used to have a team and a professional softball league that didn’t exist anymore. A beautiful facility and venue was just sitting there available. I think we have really enjoyed each other in the relationship. … Being able to make that five-year commitment felt good to everyone.”

Cheri Kempf is a senior vice president at Athletes Unlimited. Courtesy of Athletes Unlimited

Terms of the lease extension — which still requires formal approval by the village board — weren’t available Wednesday.

It’s not Rosemont’s first foray into women’s professional sports. The village took over ownership of the Bandits when then-owner Bill Sokolis stepped down in 2017. And the Allstate Arena hosted the WNBA’s Chicago Sky basketball team from 2010 to 2017.

At a time when women’s sports is growing in popularity, Kempf praised Mayor Brad Stephens for being a “forward thinker.”

“That’s important to a young league trying to get their legs under them,” she said.

Athletes Unlimited’s model eschews the traditional setup of players on teams who travel to play in different cities. Instead, all games are based at one location, and team rosters change from week to week based on individual players’ performances in previous games.

After softball launched in Rosemont in 2020 — initially, with no fans in the seats and players wearing masks — Athletes Unlimited added volleyball and lacrosse in 2021, and basketball in 2022. Volleyball is now based in Phoenix, lacrosse is in suburban Baltimore, and basketball is in Dallas.

The league’s condensed two-week softball season called AUX Softball, which was in Rosemont last year, is moving to Wichita, Kansas, this year.

The 2,000-seat softball stadium in Rosemont has hosted the Athletes Unlimited league since 2020, and before that, the Chicago Bandits women’s softball team. Courtesy of Athletes Unlimited

To promote the new softball season, officials plan to make a big splash in Chicago’s Daley Plaza from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, May 16. A 12-foot-tall softball will be on display, and athletes and ESPN’s Sarah Spain will greet fans.

The league extended its national broadcast deal with ESPN earlier this year, calling for 33 softball, 15 volleyball, 12 lacrosse and 10 basketball games to air on linear and digital platforms.

Season five of Athletes Unlimited softball will run from July 26 through Aug. 25 in Rosemont.

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