With fan attendance dropping, NFL must up its game

NFL5From the Saturday, Feb. 6, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

From concussions and domestic violence to deflated footballs and debatable discipline, the NFL seemingly has more threats to its mighty brand these days than Cam Newton has in his offensive arsenal.

Yet with more than 114 million Americans expected to tune in to Sunday’s Super Bowl extravaganza—during which TV ads are going for a whopping $5 million per 30-second pop—professional football continues to thrive.

But can that kingdom continue without hordes of fans in the stands?

Surely, the NFL doesn’t want to find out.

Here on the eve of Super Bowl 50, however, a future filled with sparsely populated stadiums is indeed on of the problems pressing Roger Goodell’s league, even as his sport’s television numbers continue to soar.

According to the Sports Business Research Network, the average NFL game in 2014 drew just 64,698 fans, the league’s lowest since 1998. Even more startling, total attendance in 2014 fell to 18,205,000, down from 20,336,000 in 2011—a drop of more than 2 million in just 36 months.

So, what gives? Well, technology, that’s what. Thanks to it, today’s football fans have little motivation to get off the couch and drop the $479.11 that it now costs on average to take a family of four to a game.

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Don’t make Valentine’s Day plans heart on yourself

VDayFrom the Saturday, Jan. 30, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

It’s not quite February yet, but if you haven’t already started making plans for the 14th of next month, well, you’re liable to be left out in the cold.

Both by a restaurant – and your special someone.

With two weeks to go before Valentine’s Day, I’m here to help all you lovers – and singles – out with some suggestions, should you be considering a trip to Chicagoland celebrate Hallmark’s second favorite holiday (behind Mothers’ Day).

If you’re looking to book reservations at one of the many Chicago restaurants offering special Valentine’s Day menus, it’s best to consult Opentable.com (download the app). But if you’re looking to do something else romantic – or ridiculous – during that weekend then read on.

Weekend Plays
Feb. 12-14

In last week’s column, I mentioned how great the Windy City is as a theater city, especially during Chicago Theatre Week. This year, that event conveniently spans Valentine’s Day weekend with discounted shows (tickets for $15 and $30) taking place at multiple venues Feb. 12-14.

There may be no better weekend, in fact, for dinner and a show in the city. For the full lineup of shows, visit chicagotheatreweek.com.

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February’s short month long on action in Chicago

chicago-cnyFrom the Saturday, Jan. 23, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

For such an abbreviated month (even with the extra day leaping in this year), Chicago’s February certainly packs in a lot. And that’s not even including all of the romantic – or ridiculous – ways you can while away Valentine’s Day.

But we’ll deal with those next week.

Today, I’ll let you know what’s taking place in the Windy City during the second month of 2016 should you want to blow into town for a visit.

Mardi Gras celebrations
Feb. 6

If you can’t make it down to New Orleans to celebrate Fat Tuesday on Feb. 9 – or to St. Louis, which claims to host the nation’s second-largest Mardi Gras celebration – you can still let the good times roll in Chicago.

On Saturday, Feb. 6, Navy Pier will host the “World’s Largest Indoor Bar Crawl” from 2 to 8 p.m. in honor of Mardi Gras. For $30 admission, guests will enjoy drinks and food from 10 bars, including Margaritaville, Harry Caray’s Tavern and Billy Goat Tavern, as well as live music, face-painting, games and prizes. For more information, visit eventbrite.com.

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Weathering the winter with thoughts on the Illini & Cubs

IMG_7862From the Saturday, Jan. 16, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

The weather may be frigid this weekend, but it’s only 33 days until Major League pitchers and catchers begin reporting to their spring training outposts on Feb. 18.

And that thought warms my heart – even if we actually have to wait until Feb. 19 for the White Sox to hit their camp, and Feb. 20 for the Cubs.

With that in mind, I have a few swings to take on the sports scene up in Chicago and down in Champaign.

Groce rate of return

Four games into his fourth Big Ten season, University of Illinois basketball coach John Groce’s conference record stands at a meager 25-33 for a wobbly winning percentage of .431.

That’s far behind the standards set by his Illini coaching predecessors Bruce Weber, who finished his fourth season in Champaign at 48-26 in the Big Ten (.649), and Lon Kruger, who was 38-28 (.576). Bill Self, meanwhile, didn’t stick around for four years, but posted a stellar 35-13 mark (.729) during his trio of seasons before bolting for Kansas.

Last Sunday, Groce pulled off a big upset when the Illini upended No. 20 Purdue 84-70 at State Farm Center, but none of the aforementioned numbers are encouraging for Groce’s Illinois career.

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Wisch Lists are for New Years

Screen Shot 2016-01-09 at 9.39.06 AMFrom the Saturday, Jan. 9, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

Wish lists are for Christmas.

But Wisch Lists? Well, just like every year, they’re for New Years.

Although, this new year, I’m a week late with my own after spending the waning days of 2015 out in New York City (to celebrate Christmas with my wife’s family) and then down in Charleston, S.C. (to ring in 2016 in the Low Country, where the calories are anything but).

During our trip, the temperatures barely dipped below 50 – and in Charleston even pushed 80 – before we returned home to Chicago, where we received greeted rudely by Old Man Winter who had finally arrived back in Illinois following his own December vacation.

Anybody want to chip in to send him back on a trip far away?

But now, as I get fully settled in to 2016, I’d like to tell you what I hope happens during it.

I Wisch the Chicago Bears the best this season … wait, it’s already over? When did it start?

I Wisch that I didn’t have to say that I’ve never been less interested in a Bears team than this one.

I Wisch that I didn’t also have to say the same thing about Illini basketball.

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12 things you never knew about Christmas

12daysFrom the Saturday, Dec. 26, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

By Dave Wischnowsky

The WISCH LIST

Ever wonder how much it would cost if your “one true love” actually did give you everything listed in the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas”?

Let’s just say it would be the one true debt of New Year.

For the past three decades, PNC has actually calculated “The True Price of Christmas,” tallying the cost of hiring leaping lords, purchasing a partridge (and a pear tree) and buying everything else in between.

The final bill for 2015: $34,130.99.

And as you process that, here are 12 other things you probably didn’t know about Christmas, which I hope for you was a very merry one.

Even without any swans-a-swimming.

1. In A.D. 350, Pope Julius I, bishop of Rome, proclaimed Dec. 25 as the official celebration date for the birthday of Christ, even though many scholars believe He was likely born during the spring.

2. In Norway, scientists have hypothesized that Rudolph’s red nose is probably the result of a parasitic infection of his respiratory system. Either that or too much eggnog.

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His Kind of Town, Chicago Was

From the Saturday, Dec. 19, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

frank_chicago2The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

On Dec. 12, 1915, inside a ramshackle upstairs tenement in Hoboken, N.J., Francis Albert Sinatra entered the world weighing a whopping 13.5 pounds.

He then went on to become larger than life.

And throughout Sinatra’s extraordinary tenure as “Chairman of the Board” before his death in 1998 at the age of 82, there were few cities – save perhaps “New York, New York” – that Ol’ Blue Eyes was more closely associated with than Chicago, his kind of town.

Seven days ago, the world sung praises about Sinatra on what would have been his 100th birthday. And in the week since, I’ve come across so many interesting Windy City tidbits about the 20th century’s greatest singer that I thought we should belt those out too.

My kind of … show tune?

Throughout his life, Sinatra recorded multiple versions of his hit song “My Kind of Town,” but what you might not know is that the popular tune was originally part of the musical score for the 1964 film, “Robin and the 7 Hoods,” which starred several members of the legendary Rat Pack.

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Wisch List on the Air … in Champaign

TayIt’s not just the holidays that make things hectic this time of the year.

Sports can do that too.

And on Friday they certainly did with the Chicago Cubs signing prized free agent outfielder Jason Heyward and stealing him away from the archrival St. Louis Cardinals, in the process. Couple that with Illinois’ ongoing search for an athletic director and the university system’s silly drive to have Illinois and UIC play each other in Chicago at the United Center, and there was plenty to talk about during my segment on the ESPN Radio Champaign’s Tay & J Show on Friday evening.

To listen to the podcast, simply click here.

Holiday events keeping December hot in Chicago

zlpromo_southlawn670From the Saturday, Dec. 12, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

December itself is almost half over. But, in many ways, the holiday season has still barely begun.

Up in Chicago, I’ve often said that besides summertime, there’s no better time to be in the city than Christmastime. That’s perhaps even truer this year with temperatures this week creeping up towards 60 and making it almost feel like summertime during Christmastime in the city.

No matter the weather, there’s always a sleigh full of holiday hoopla that’s taking place in Chicago throughout December. So much, in fact, that there’s still plenty left in the sack for the final two weeks of the year. And if you’re making a list – and checking it twice – for a holiday visit to the Windy City this month, here are a few things I’d suggest putting at the top.

Holiday Lights Trolley

It may not be Paris, but Chicago can hold its own as a city of lights. And you can enjoy its nighttime sights in all their seasonal glory through Jan. 3 via the Holiday Lights Trolley. For $29 ($19 children ages 3-11), the twinkling 2½ -hour excurison takes you from John Hancock Plaza (875 N. Michigan Ave.) to Lincoln Park Zoo and Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza before returning to the Mag Mile complimentary hot cocoa and cookies at Hershey’s Chocolate World.

For more information, visit chicagotrolley.com.

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Short-term hire opens up Illinois’ long-term potential

CubitFrom the Saturday, Dec. 5, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

There are no guarantees in life.

But there are wise decisions.

And while a sizable swath of Illini Nation has vociferously disagreed with me online this week – thank you, Twitter – I think that the University of Illinois made a wise call last Saturday when it announced that it would be extending interim head football coach Bill Cubit’s contract for two years.

Now, that isn’t because I think Cubit is the long-term answer for Illinois. Or even because I expect that he’ll enjoy any significant short-term success. But what I do think is that the short-term stability provided by extending him for two years does offer Illinois the best long-term options.

And right now for Illini athletics, that’s what it’s all about.

Illinois football is a mess. Illinois basketball is a mess. Ticket sales are down. Fan apathy is up. And many of the university’s deep-pocketed donors are disenchanted and disillusioned with the state (school) of affairs.

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