Game on: Sports franchises a vital part of suburban business scene
Shawn Hunter believes his Chicago Dogs minor-league baseball team caught a big break when Gov. J.B. Pritzker moved the state to Phase 4 of its COVID-19 pandemic guidelines this summer.
"We looked at it as a gift," said Hunter, the Dogs' co-owner, "and with it came a lot of responsibility. I think we lived up to that. We had a great safety plan for our fans, our players, our front office, and I think we delivered on that. Got great feedback from the fans and the players.
"I would deem the season as a great success."
The Dogs played a 60-game season in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, 30 of those games at Impact Field in Rosemont, where they were allowed to fill 20% capacity of their 6,300-seat stadium. They reached that level almost every night.
After becoming profitable in 2019, their second season, the Dogs fell back into the red this summer. Just not as far as they could have fallen.
"What being able to play did was kind of cut some of those losses and gave us a great runway for the future," Hunter said. "... In that regard it was a success from a branding standpoint and really serving as a powerful bridge between the pandemic we're living in and returning to normalcy, hopefully, in '21 and beyond."
The Dogs, and sports in general from youth sports to the professional ranks, are a big part of the suburban business community.
In the Dogs' case it's by selling sponsorships, renting out suites for corporate use or by being involved in charitable events.
"We also try to be a good community asset," Hunter said. "I think that's key to running a sports team. At the end of the day, whether it's baseball or football or basketball, sports teams are the ultimate community assets. They're the window into a community."
Hunter knows what he's talking about. He's a former president of Anschutz Entertainment Group Sports, then overseeing 11 sports teams around the world, including the Chicago Fire in Major League Soccer.
Hunter also worked with the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche, plus the Denver Nuggets of the NBA.
He was with AEG when Southwest suburban Bridgeview built Toyota Park/SeatGeek Stadium for the Fire. The Fire moved out of the stadium after the 2019 season.
The Dogs are going nowhere. They like Rosemont.
"We're surrounded by so many great communities, and our facility is so accessible off the (Interstate) 294, I think we do very well in our backyard, in the surrounding communities," Hunter said. "But we also pull from the north and the south, geographically, longer distances than you would think just because it's so easy to get in and out of our ballpark.
"And I think Rosemont has such a good reputation to do business in Rosemont, but also as an entertainment destination here with the entertainment district, with the fashion outlets, with all of the great restaurants and offering they have.
"We're the latest addition to that but hopefully an important piece going forward."