CASTLE: Once last in Chicago, Hawks have chance to rank right behind Bears

2013-06-15T18:00:00Z 2013-06-16T00:09:20Z CASTLE: Once last in Chicago, Hawks have chance to rank right behind BearsGeorge Castle on the Blackhawks
June 15, 2013 6:00 pm  • 

CHICAGO | "The important thing is you can't take your fans, as your customers, for granted."

I have never forgotten that forthright statement from Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz during his team’s fan convention on July 15, 2011.

Wirtz elaborated: "As long as you keep your customers in mind, review ticket prices very, very carefully, and anything you do, you have to realize the fans ultimately are the decision-makers. You try not to offend them and try to inform them on anything you can.”

On other occasions, Wirtz has admitted the Hawks continued to lose money after the 2010 Stanley Cup, but at a lesser rate than before. His parent Wirtz Corp. liquor-distributorship empire would absorb the red ink. No employees were laid off during the lockout. Striving for another Cup comes first, and we’ll deal with the financial ramifications later.

Have you heard any other Chicago sports owner verbalize such combination of customer-service excellence to go along with a dedication to winning?

I didn’t think so. And that’s why the Hawks have won friends and influenced people by the hundreds of thousands throughout the area. They have tapped into a wellspring of desire for a professionally-run team that puts winning, and not other considerations first.

Ever since the first championship three years ago, I’ve suspected part of the Hawks’ burgeoning appeal is rank dissatisfaction with the No. 1 and 1-A sports franchises in Chicago.

With access to enormous big-market resources despite flawed stadiums, the most popular teams in town, the Bears and Cubs have failed to establish consistent contenders and first-rate football/baseball operations departments. They are annually inferior to their arch-rivals in small-market Green Bay and St. Louis.

All the while, both the Bears and the Cubs stick their fans for high ticket prices and never have any verbal regrets.

Apparently, many Chicago-area rooters are voting with their remotes and feet. The May 27 Hawks-Red Wings playoff game more than doubled the combined ratings of the Cubs and Sox originating TV outlets. And on Wednesday, one on-site estimate had just 13,000 fans in Wrigley Field for the game against the Reds, a modest mid-June turnout not seen in almost four decades.

The dissension extends to the Bulls and White Sox, long under the common control of chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.

Even before Derrick Rose wracked up his knee, there was a common suspicion the Bulls had not surrounded their MVP with enough talent, including a legit No. 2 scoring option. The Sox? They were in first place last year until the final two weeks -- and the fans still didn’t come out.

As the counter-weight to all these failures, the Hawks have bloomed to where they could rank No. 2 in the market behind the Bears with another Stanley Cup.

The core of the team is talented and telegenic. Most importantly, the owner cares.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at

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