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After a NASCAR visit, what sports should Chicago bring to the area?

A deep dive into sports leagues you’ve never thought twice about.

NASCAR: Grant Park 220 Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

The Bears haven’t won a playoff game in over a decade. The Bulls aren’t much more impressive, winning their last playoff series in 2015. And aside from the glory of the 2016 Cubs, Chicago’s baseball teams haven’t been worth a ticket purchase for the better part of the 21st century.

Why be satisfied with — at best — mediocrity? Why not try for something better — at least something more entertaining? But to its credit, the City of Chicago is trying to satiate these desires. Look no further than the NASCAR Cup Series, which came to Grant Park last week.

The traveling circuit of races selected Chi-Town as its next destination in hopes of attracting a younger demographic, which might be more inclined to watch street racing as opposed to the traditional format that sees drivers race around a roughly half-mile track hundreds of times.

The spectacle received a warm reaction on television, as the race’s 4.795 million network viewers marked the second-largest audience of any NASCAR Cup Series since the Daytona 500 earlier this year. But even more promising for the city itself, people turned out in swarms to watch the stock cars zoom around the familiar streets. While the race was cut short due to flooding on certain parts of the track, Chicagoans proved their readiness to back any sort of sports — so long as it’s entertaining.

For a city storied with tales of ninth-inning home runs, game-winning baskets and go-ahead touchdowns, something new might be good for the sports scene in the city. Today, I’ll take a quick dive into a few other professional sports leagues whose descendance into Chicago would ignite fiery fans around the metropolitan area.

Major League Eating

Perhaps I’m blinded by a bit of recency bias, but Joey Chestnut and Chicago sound like a match made in heaven. Make the city the hub for the deep dish pizza slice contest, seeing who can down the most Lou Malnati’s pies in 30 minutes.

Most of the eating competitions are shorter, under 10 or 15 minutes, but deep dish takes time. Right now, Chestnut downs hotdogs so easily that you hardly even know he’s stuffing his stomach with enough sodium to kill a wolf. Give fans their money’s worth and have them sit up there for longer; see the struggle and contemplation in their eyes. No doubt Chicagoans would give contestants the cheers they need to keep eating.

And the beauty of professional eating… You don’t need to be 6-foot-6, more than 220 pounds or train six hours a day. As such, upon buying their tickets, fans should be able to opt-in to the Fan Fare Seat raffle, in which the announcer calls out one onlooker to compete on-stage alongside the rest of the field a few minutes before showtime. Talk about making the sport accessible.


For the uninitiated, an Ironman is a triathlon, consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run. I’d venture to say it’s the most difficult feat of athleticism that exists on a professional level today, and there’s no reason that the sport couldn’t host one of its qualifiers for the Ironman World Championships in Chicago.

Individual sports are a great thing to bring into the mix for Chicagoans, who are used to rooting for six-, nine- or 11-player squads. Undoubtedly, among the athletes Chicago has to offer, hometown heroes would frequent the waves, trails and roads.

Imagine the chaos of dozens of uber-elite athletes plunging into Lake Michigan for a multi-mile swim in June or July. On Ironman’s end, racing in the confines of a big city would do numbers for its television ratings, which currently are inhibited by the courses utilizing uninspiring, duplicative tracks.

Major League Rugby

Okay, this is a bit of a cheat on my end, given that Chicago already has a Major League Rugby team, the Hounds. But it’d be wrong of me to not include this league when it literally is hosting its championship game at SeatGeek Stadium today. You’d think that an event full of hard-hitting action and music provided by DJ Diesel (Shaquile O’Neal) wouldn’t need so much promotion, but I haven’t heard a thing about it.

I won’t lead you on. The Hounds finished their 2023 campaign with a 3-13 record, but if you’re a Chicagoan already used to uninspiring sports teams, you may as well watch one that features 300-pound men slamming into one another at full force.

Rugby’s a sport that’s like football but with a more raucous atmosphere — perfect for Bears fans who were tamed by Mitch Trubisky. Game tickets would be affordable, and the objectives and rules are easy to follow. Make it happen. Go to a Hounds game next year.