Now, in spite of some surprising Colts news and the Pacers getting back to their winning ways, we're going to stay on plan and talk hockey today. The Blackhawks lost last night's game, though I missed most of it. No matter. There's still plenty of time to lock down the President's Trophy.
No, instead I just wanted to talk about how crazy it is that as little as four years ago, the Blackhawks weren't regularly on TV. Now, true, the NHL seems to be in much healthier shape than it was during the late 90's and most of the 2000's.* I'm sure that has something to do with it. I think, though, the bigger problem was having older ownership. Of course you didn't put your games on TV to Bill Wirtz. You made money by putting butts in the seats, and those butts weren't going to come if they could just sit at home and watch the game. He said it was unfair to season ticket holders, but I think he was just worried there wouldn't be season ticket holders if they were on TV.
*Have we as a society figured out the best way to say that decade? The two thousands? The aughts? Nobody warned me of this dilemma in elementary or middle school before it happened.
What doesn't seem to have penetrated Bill Wirtz's mind was that you drum up more interest in the team with TV. If people see your product (assuming it's a good product, which the Blackhawks weren't always), they're going to be interested and want to see it for themselves. This has been the Blackhawks to a T. They went from practically invisible in Chicago to possibly the most popular team in the city. Being the last one to win a championship helps with that, sure. But I think there's something to be said for people seeing the games on TV, seeing how good this team is, seeing the amazing atmosphere in the arena, and wanting to be a part of it, even if most of their part of it is buying a shirt or a hat.
And that can almost entirely be put on the shoulders of Bill Wirtz's kid, Rocky, when he took over the team. As amazing as TV feeds have gotten, if the atmosphere is good (and it is in the United Center), the fans will come. You will get the exposure and the buzz in the city, and the money will come not only in the form of ticket sales, but in merchandise and TV contracts, too. And when you've got a group like the current Blackhawks, who are not only super talented but willing to look like speed skating fools in the name of entertainment,* you will draw fans. And they have. And if you read that story, it kind of blows up one of ESPN's favorite sayings as of a few years ago that nobody can find Versus.** They can sure find it (and CSN Chicago) in Chicago, and I've never had any trouble finding it. 603 on DirecTV. 151 on Dish. 590 on Verizon FiOS. 1640 on AT&T U-Verse. It's not that hard. Don't get bitter because you gave up on hockey, ESPN.
*Apparently special thanks to Patrick Kane and Brian Campbell (USA and Canada, respectively) for taking the Blackhawks Mini-Olympics super serious during the Vancouver games. I don't know how I missed that at the time, and I am very sorry for missing it.
**Now NBC Sports as of yesterday. My DirecTV guide was on top of it.
Now, I know I just talked up the national broadcast a bit there, but this is supposed to be about the local feed, the CSN Chicago games. And I can't stress how good a job they do on CSN. During the playoffs, I usually watch that feed as opposed to the Versus feed. And as big as the Blackhawks have gotten, they do some things on the broadcast that seem to be charmingly small. Making sure to show the anthem and highlighting the tradition of the crowd cheering through it. Emphasizing the giveaway of the day and the upcoming promotions. And have I mentioned how much I absolutely love that they televise the "Shoot the Puck" competition during the second intermission? Pure genius to make sure that's on TV every game.
If you aren't familiar, here's what happens. For the prize of a free round-trip flight anywhere in the 48 contiguous states from Southwest, the shooter gets three chances to put a puck into any of three small openings on the net from center ice. If you make it the first time around, you will then get a second round to win $10,000.* They'll typically interview one of the shooters either before their turn or right after they've shot. The entertainment value is just absurd. Pure brilliance to whoever decided that should be a staple of the local broadcast.
*Much like the big wheel on The Price is Right. And I'm going off memory here, I might be off on the second round prize, but I think I'm right.
Another very good idea was the idea to give away four tickets to any Blackhawks away game. The winner gets an all-expenses paid trip to watch their (presumably) favorite team, and the Blackhawks aren't really out any money.* The Blackhawks I'm sure are just giving the tickets out of their allotment from road games anyway and the hotel the winner stays in is the same one as the team. So all their out is some plane tickets and some spending money, which for all the money the team is making these days is chump change. All that, and they don't miss out on the paying customers at home.
*At least I hope the Blackhawks aren't asking for a lot of money out of Goodwill. That just wouldn't feel right.
One last bit before I sign off for the day about the Winter Classic. Good, if not great, game. The ice seemed less than arena quality, but not enough to take away from the enjoyment of the game. Now, the officiating at the end, that's a different story. I don't seem to be alone in this, either. The officials seemed to be trying their damnedest to let Philly push it to overtime with some very highly questionable calls. Even my mom thought it was suspect, and she only watches hockey when she's with my brother or myself watching TV. If it's that obvious to somebody who's not even a casual fan, there's a problem. I don't know who has the blood on their hands, but somebody needs to get into some trouble over this.