The NOW Arena in Hoffman Estates is a bona fide entertainment epicenter, with a variety of events that draw together people from across the northwest suburbs and beyond.
Head down Interstate 90 and keep an eye out for the large white dome as you pass Hoffman Estates. Towering above the landscape near the Illinois Route 59 exit, NOW Arena is an 11,800-seat event center that attracts big-time artists and national events, from musical acts to kids’ shows.
“We went from Excision one week to Trolls Live the next,” says Craig Kuehne, director of marketing for NOW Arena, 5333 Prairie Stone Pkwy. “The demographics are very different but we’re catering to the whole community as much as we can.”
As a regional entertainment destination, the arena draws from all over suburban Chicago with plenty of big-name acts that appeal to the whole family. This winter, the lineup includes plenty of sports events with a few surprises.
Through the end of March, catch the action courtside as the Windy City Bulls, a G-League affiliate of the Chicago Bulls basketball team, embarks on its sixth season. These up-and-coming players take on teams from across the nation, in places like Wisconsin, Indiana, Memphis, Cleveland and New York. Home games in Chicago feature special promotions and giveaways.
“We have 24 games a year, every year,” Kuehne says. “It’s been good for us. The cool thing is they have all the same entertainment that the Bulls have throughout the game. It’s also a good opportunity to see a lot of these young players who are moving into the NBA.”
On Dec. 29 and 30, Northwestern University hosts the Ken Kraft Midlands Championships at NOW Arena. Featuring some of the nation’s highest-ranked collegiate wrestlers, this tournament draws eight Big Ten teams, more than 35 schools and, for the first time ever, a women’s division. The event has traditionally been held at Northwestern’s Evanston campus, but organizers were won over by the NOW Arena’s size, which offers a chance to grow in the future, Kuehne says.
“It’s been a good experience for us and them,” he says. “Colleges from all over the country are invited to participate. Anybody can buy a ticket and watch these elite wrestlers compete.”
Then, on Jan. 28 and 29, the arena gets ready for two nights of glow-in-the-dark mayhem as it hosts the Hot Wheels Monster Trucks Live Glow Party. The two-day event features monster truck competitions and battles with real-life versions of Hot Wheels Monster trucks – as they compete in the dark.
The event also features a dance party, laser light shows and Hot Wheels toy giveaways.
“If you go to Target and you see the Hot Wheels monster trucks, those are the trucks they’ll have,” Kuehne says. “They bring the lights down and put glow strips all over the trucks. That’s another one we sold out last year and we’re expecting the same this year.”
To kick off February, the arena hosts the Professional Championship Bull Riders World Tour Finale on Feb. 4 and 5. World-class bull riders and barrel racers wow audiences as up-and-coming stars and longtime veteran riders from across the nation compete to take the winning ride on 2,000-pound bucking bulls.
In March, NOW Arena welcomes Christian music star TobyMac and friends, and in June the latest show from Cirque du Soleil arrives.
What’s today known as the NOW Arena opened as the Sears Centre on Oct. 26, 2006, as a partnership between the Village of Hoffman Estates, the Ryan Companies construction firm, and Sears Holdings, the retail giant whose headquarters is just north of the arena. The venue opened in grand style, with its first two concerts featuring Duran Duran on opening night and Bob Dylan the next night.
It experienced ups and downs over the years, and in 2020 it was rechristened as the NOW Arena under a multimillion-dollar deal that gave naming rights to NOW Health Group, a family-owned natural products producer based in Bloomingdale.
The company has also become a sponsor of the Windy City Bulls and maintains an information center located inside the arena’s lobby.
Many sports teams have come and gone over the years, from indoor soccer teams like the Chicago Mustangs and the Chicago Soul FC to the Chicago Express hockey team and the Chicago Slaughter arena football team. The Windy City Bulls have been the most consistent, Kuehne says. When the Bulls arrived, the arena received several upgrades, including one large video board in the main entrance and a main video board inside the arena.
The heart of this venue has a total of 67 box suites located above the arena’s general seating and on the 100 level. The suites feature amenities like luxurious leather seats and a dining area for food and beverages. Suites are available per event or annually to entertain guests, pamper clients or reward employees. Few other arenas of this size boast so many suites, says Kuehne.
Further distinguishing NOW Arena is the unique KultureCity Sensory Room. Dedicated in September 2021 by NOW Arena officials, KultureCity and All Elite Wrestling, the sensory room is a dimly lit area for patrons with sensory needs who want a quiet place to decompress if the noise of an event is too much. NOW Arena staff are trained to keep up on everything in the sensory room and hand out noise-canceling headphones and fidget toys.
“It comes down to making sure that we are treating our guests respectfully,” Kuehne says. “Anybody can use it.”
Starting this year everything is cashless inside the arena, so concessions now accepts only credit cards and digital payments. Parking, which can accommodate more than 3,200 vehicles, still accepts cash payments. Parking costs $12 for all Windy City Bulls games and ranges from $5 to $20 for all other events.
A Palatine native, Kuehne grew up just 20 minutes from the arena. He was studying corporate communication at Northern Illinois University in 2012 when he sought an unpaid internship with the arena. He had a feeling this gig would pay off in the long run. He was right.
“I got lucky, to be honest,” Kuehne says with a chuckle. “The group salesperson happened to leave as I was looking for a full-time job, so I was able to pick up that position and move into the marketing side from there.”
Kuehne has seen the arena reach new heights in recent years, particularly as the venue recovers from the COVID-19 lockdown. In fact, this year is on track to be the best in arena history for attendance and gross numbers, Kuehne says. But what really excites him is the way that people come from all across the Chicago area for an experience. Sometimes, the job feels a bit surreal.
“I used to come out here and eat lunch and soak it in,” Kuehne says as he stands mid-court. “There are times when people I knew growing up just happen to come to a show. It’s cool to see those people from my community here just enjoying themselves.”