Bulls aim for fan engagement at inaugural ‘Bulls Fest'


From 1989-2001, the Chicago Bulls hosted an annual 3-on-3 basketball tournament in Grant Park called “Shoot the Bull.” The event was popular — in its final year 2,000 teams participated — and raised roughly $2 million for charitable causes over its tenure. But it was eventually discontinued. 

Twenty-one years later, a new and — the Bulls hope — improved offshoot of that idea will come to life on the United Center grounds over Labor Day Weekend: The organization’s inaugural “Bulls Fest.”

“It's always been this thing in the back of our minds that we want to try to do something like this,” Bulls vice president of marketing Dan Moriarty, one of the key organizers of the event, said in a phone interview. “That (3-on-3 tournament) was the kernel of the idea.”

But “Bulls Fest” as it will be presented to fans this Saturday and Sunday is much more than that. 

Yes, there is a 3-on-3 component, in which anyone ages 8 and above can participate across a variety of skill levels. The Bulls are erecting 40 temporary courts for the event. There will also be Slam Dunk and 3-Point Contests, clinics held throughout the weekend and meet-and-greets with current and former Bulls, centering the festivities around basketball.

But in the spirit of the event’s tagline — “Hoops, Arts, Beats, Eats” — the organization has also transformed the United Center atrium into a gallery featuring 100 different artists (Moriarty estimated 60 percent are local), enlisted the services of a bevy of food and beverage vendors to line Madison St., and booked musical artists such as G Herbo and Da Brat (both rappers from Chicago) to perform.

The event is the culmination of nearly a year’s work, countless hours of logistics and proposals and brainstorming. Moriarty hopes it feels like a celebration.

“We as an organization have really looked at our strategic priorities, and one of the areas that we really want to focus on as an organization is developing a good relationship with our fanbase,” Moriarty said. “Like, how do you create more moments to connect with fans? Because I think outside of game days we haven't necessarily had a lot of public-facing events that allow fans to get closer to the brand, the team, those of us that work here.”

Those who attend Saturday and Sunday will have plenty of opportunities to do just that. 

Saturday afternoon, there are times blocked off on the event’s schedule for photo opps with current Bulls forward Javonte Green, former Bulls guard Ben Gordon, and event current front office heads Artūras Karnišovas and Marc Eversley. On Sunday, Dalen Terry and Ayo Dosunmu are available — and special appearances are expected at different events throughout the festivities. Green, for example, is slated to judge the event’s Slam Dunk Contest, a match made in heaven.

“We have tried to build an event that our players, current and former, and our basketball operations staff would be proud of. And so we've tried to find natural ways to get that integrated,” Moriarty said. “Everyone that we've taken it to and we've had the conversations with has been super receptive.”

Moriarty also noted that the Bulls see opportunity for civic engagement in the event. A portion of the proceeds from art sold from the gallery will go towards Chicago Bulls Charities. On Friday, the day before the festival opens to the public, groups from Unified Sports, CPS Schools and Swish will come out for a basketball tournament of their own.

Outside of the Saturday/Sunday 3-on-3 tournament and basketball clinics, which carry a charge, the “Bulls Fest” is free for any and all to attend. The challenge there, Moriarty noted, is that the Bulls enter the weekend without a firm attendance expectation (outside of the roughly 600 teams signed up for the 3-on-3 tourney).

Instead, the Bulls will judge the success of the event based on fan experience. Moriarty cracked he will be “walking around with a notebook” all weekend, taking stock of how different events are received.

“Our success metric this weekend is not how many people come. It's the people that do come, how good of a time do they have?” Moriarty said. “There's so many elements that went into this weekend that we know that, the people that come, if we execute our end of the bargain they should have a great time. And if folks come and have a great time, then everything next year and the year after becomes that much easier.”

That is the hope — that “Bulls Fest” becomes an annual event. But for the time being, the focus shifts to this weekend.

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