Rick Reilly recently pointed out who the top team is in each town. In Chicago, the Blackhawks were in last place for years. The stadium was half-empty, games weren't televised, and the fans had forgotten. A new administration brought in team president John McDonough (now a Hall of Famer). Now, tickets are at a premium, games are on TV, the team sold out the inaugural convention and they got the premier regular season event in hockey … all in the space of a year. What's his advice?
Become Legitimate Again by Embracing Change.
"We had to admit it. We weren't legitimate. Before you can really do anything with the team, you have to build an elite front office. I wanted people who have the philosophy of 'Never enough.' By that I mean there has to be the idea that there's never enough winning you can do. There's never enough you can do for your fans. There's never enough times you can get to the playoffs or win a Stanley Cup. There's never enough you can do to market your team. To do that, we had to embrace change."
Be on TV!
"When I got here, when it comes to promotion and TV, we weren't starting from scratch. Do you know what it is before scratch? We were before scratch. Whether you're winning or losing, every game is a three-hour commercial for your team. With the Hawks, we literally missed two generations of fans. We had to address it, and immediately. In a season-plus, we're up to every game on TV.
Get Out of the Grudge Business
"Grudges can build up all over the place. You can have grudges with the fans, you have grudges with the media and you have grudges with older players. We have guys like Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita that have to be a face of the franchise in a way, because they are what the franchise is built on. You just have to admit it to yourselves, and get on with it."
Make a Splash in Free Agency … The Right Way
"When I was with the Cubs, in my last year we had this off-season where we landed Alfonso Soriano, Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis, Mark Derosa … It was a new name every day. Some people criticized us for it. But the big thing is we also added Lou Piniella, who I think is brilliant at combing elements and bring it all together. Here, yeah we spent a bunch of money and got elite guys like Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet, but we also added maybe the best mind the game has ever known in Scotty Bowman."
Rebuild The Season Ticket Base
"We went from a 3400 season ticket base to 13,000 in a year. It's incredible. We had people lining up for tickets when they could get them online. We had players out there serving coffee and food to them. You have to connect with fans. It all starts with generating an excitement in any way you can."
"Fan conventions are the ultimate celebration of a fan's connection with the team. It's the first time our fans get to stand there and literally ask a GM, 'What were you doing with this deal?' It's this event where you take the front office, the fans and the players and you put them all on the same floor and you make it clear we all have the same goal. It's just a part of that 12-month marketing cycle that you have to embrace."
Root, Root, Root For The Home Team
"We think it's great when other teams are winning. You want a full house when one of your players throws out the first pitch at Wrigley Field, like Brian Campbell did last week. Even though Brian threw out what I think was the ugliest first pitch ever at Wrigley. We'll work with other teams to market ours because we want to market for 12 months. Chicago could have the Cubs and Sox, I hope, in the World Series. The Bears look like they're bouncing back this year. When people are excited about sports in Chicago, we win, because how many fans are passionate about just one sport, really? When the other teams do well, we're in the conversation."
"I expect us to have a full building every night, but we have to earn it. We have a long way to go still, and our mantra has to be that when any other team takes one step, we better take ten."
And one bonus idea…
A Game, at Wrigley, Against the Defending champs, on January 1st. Yeah.
"I was with the Cubs for the first night game at Wrigley, and that's hard to top. But this could. I think by the time it gets down to it, it could be the toughest ticket in Chicago sports history. We call it the Blackhawk Bowl, because it's on bowl day. … When I was trying to sell the commissioner on it, I went into this romantic thing about ivy on the scoreboards and snow falling and the upstart Hawks against the titan Red Wings. (Laughs) And now that we got it, we have an obligation to make this great. I expect it to be a defining moment for this franchise."