Bears, Cubs, White Sox, Bulls, Blackhawks. The order of teams in # of fans, according to a recent Chicago Tribune article.
Do the Blackhawks have a chance of passing the Bulls? Certainly. White Sox? Little more of a stretch. However, they won’t catch the Cubs or the Bears, but they will do an excellent job of bringing the city together. The last time Chicago experienced a championship was in 2005 when the White Sox won the World Series. I was at the parade, an event that I will never forget. I won’t be able to make it to the Blackhawks’ parade due to work, but I will certainly be there in spirit, watching on my computer and recording the day on my DVR.
The fact that the Blackhawks (nee Black Hawks) were able to erase 49 years of pain and tension with just over 64 minutes of hockey is astonishing. For fans that have followed their whole lives, such as my Uncle Tom, this is especially sweet. Those fans had to suffer through the peaks and the abyss that followed.
The Blackhawks were once a household name, with their emblem being voted the most recognizable team insignia’s. They showcased greats such as Hull, Mikita, Esposito, Magnuson, Belfour, Roenick, Chelios, etc. It was difficult to get tickets to the games as the product on the ice was quality and the players were well known. The teams were consistent contenders.
Over time and prior to the revitalization, the Blackhawks became nothing, pure and simple. Sure they played at the United Center, but times were different. The crowds numbered in the low thousands (high hundreds?) at some games. When the team was fortunate to make the playoffs, it was with hollow hope as the expectations were a first round exit, which was usually obliged. The chairman, “Dollar” Bill Wirtz had a very unique idea for running the organization. He put the games on pay-per-view, which was unsuccessful. Then, he decided to stop airing the games altogether. His reasoning? He didn’t want people to see for free what his season ticket buyers were paying money for. Therefore, no one went to games because no one knew about the product on the ice. The organization even cut ties with its National Anthem singer and main radio announcer. Very few individuals wanted to be a part of the organization.
After Bill died in 2008, his son, Rocky Wirtz took over and flipped the organization’s practices on their heads. He hired John McDonough to turn the team around from the marketing side. One of the first moves was to put the games on the air. Suddenly, Blackhawks game could be seen on WGN or Comcast. Stan and Scotty Bowman were brought in to help with personnel moves. With the drafting of Toews and Kane and the signings of Keith, Seabrook, Sharpe and other key players, the team is stacked. The team got better relatively quickly. The ‘Hawks made the playoffs in 2009 and weren’t expected to go the conference finals, but proved everyone wrong. They played well with the Red Wings, but Detroit had too much skill and experience. Therefore, the Hawks took the series as a learning experience that they could build upon. The team entered 2009-2010 as one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
The last time Chicago was excited about hockey was in 1992, when the ‘Hawks lost the Finals to the Penguins in 4 games. With the team reaching the Conference Finals last year, many new fans arrived and old fans came back. The team made Chicago hockey fun to watch again. Fandom reached a peak with the Stanley Cup run that is sure to continue for years to come. There were celebrations all throughout the city, not just in white, yuppie neighborhoods, such as around Jackson and Des Plaines, or in the suburbs. The team has united the city around one entity, something the White Sox did in 2005, and something the Olympics failed to do. As I said, with keen personnel moves, I think fans are going to continue filling the UC and keep the Blackhawks’ television ratings high.