Blackhawks turn franchise around after change in ownership

In 2006 ESPN dubbed the Chicago Blackhawks one of the worst franchise in professional sports.

Since this issue ran:

On June 9, 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Philadelphia Flyers, winning its first Stanley Cup since 1961.

-June 9, 2010

Now just four short years later the Hawks have made it to the Conference Finals for the second year in a row. The team has the highest attendance rate of all the NHL teams. And it seems as though everyone in Chicago is a Blackhawks fan.

So what happened?

Sports columnists and fans attribute the success to primarily the shift in ownership. In 2007 longtime owner Bill Wirtz died and his son, Rocky, took the helm, and he wasn’t afraid to make sweeping changes.

In an article in the Daily Herald, Tim Sassone wrote: “According to a Hawks source, Rocky Wirtz has pledged to spend whatever it takes to put a winning team on the ice, news that likely will be viewed by Hawks fans as a critical shift in club philosophy.”

W. "Rocky" Wirtz took over ownership of the Blackhawks in 2007 after his father, Bill, passed away. Photo credit: Chicago Blackhawks

Just what were the critical shifts after Rocky Wirtz was appointed chairman of the club in 2007?

The TV ban on home games was lifted. Bill Wirtz felt that airing the games was unfair to season ticket holders.

James O’Brien, a writer for NBC Sports’ ProHockeyTalk wrote, “Let that sink in for a second: Blackhawks fans weren’t able to watch home games on TV until 2007 because Bill Wirtz thought it would hurt their gate revenue. Such archaic thought makes me wonder how Chicago made it to road games on time while traveling by horse and buggy.”

John McDonougha former team president for the Cubs, was chosen as team president.

Rocky was willing to spend money on key players. Will Guzzardi, a blogger for the Huffington Post wrote: “Talent left the Chicago ice for richer pastures; now, stars like Toews and Kane are being paid the money they deserve, and they’re staying.”

McDonough, who was once quoted saying the Blackhawks have an obligation to market themselves year round–not just during hockey season–began partnering his new team with both the Cubs and the White Sox. On New Years Day 2009, the Blackhawks took on the Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field for the Winter Classic. The game drew a crowd of over 40,000–the sixth largest crowd ever at a hockey game.

The above mentioned successes helped the Blackhawks achieve a No. 7 ranking from Forbes for NHL team valuations. And like many other professional sports franchises, the Blackhawks hold an annual convention during the offseason. McDonough was quoted in an MSNBC article saying, “It impacts merchandise and ticket sales. We improved from 3,500 season-ticket holders (in 2007-2008) to 14,000 this year. The fan convention was right in the epicenter of that.”

Now it would seem that everyone with a Chicagoland zip code wants to call themselves Hawks fans.

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Trivia You Can Use to Impress Your Friends:

The Blackhawks were called the “Black Hawks” until 1986 after someone discovered the original team papers that showed there was no space between the two words.

The Blackhawks are one of six original NHL teams.

The official Blackhawks mascot is named Tommy Hawk.

The team won its last Stanley Cup in 1961, and it was lead by two Blackhawk legends, Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita.

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