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Owner Rocky Wirtz: Blackhawks’ appeal is soaring

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Thirty-seven hours after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, owner Rocky Wirtz rolled through the Hyatt Regency doors with an orange tie, a yellow shirt and a smile that betrayed none of his exhaustion.

Since Monday’s win in Boston, Wirtz (an investor in Wrapports, the parent company of Grid and the Sun-Times) said he’s gotten little sleep and more congratulatory messages than he knows what to do with — a “couple hundred” texts and 150 emails (the senders of many are a mystery, he admits).

Six months after a prolonged lockout, Wirtz again has the hottest sports brand in town. And with fans and advertisers jumping at the chance to be associated with a winner, business has never been better.

That demand is being driven in large part by the same type of raucous young fans who filled city streets after the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup-clinching victory. Wirtz said the Hawks have roped in the hard-to-understand millennial demographic without really knowing how.

“They’re discovering it, they’re talking about it, they’re watching it together, they’re meeting at their favorite watering holes to view it and to celebrate,” he said. “It’s part of the whole lifestyle of what younger people are looking for.”

The team has courted other nontraditional hockey demographics. Wirtz said the Hawks have a 40 percent female fan base and plan to do more to speak to that group.

“We’re not properly marketing to enough women. Many times advertisers are looking at this as a ‘21- to 54-year-old male,’ ” he said. “We’ve gone a long way in knowing who our fan is, but we have a long way to go still.”

And just as winning smoothed things over with fans who were demanding an apology after the lockout, it’s likely to make next season’s 16 percent ticket hike an easier pill to swallow. “We had the second-lowest ticket price in the league in ’07,” he said. “We knew we had to raise ticket prices but we had to do it very carefully. So much of our sport is derived from local revenue, unlike other sports that have very lucrative TV packages.”

Wirtz is fine with one group getting squeezed out by higher ticket prices — the brawlers, whom he said he’s seen fewer of as ticket prices have risen and the makeup of the crowd has shifted from casual viewer to more upscale, serious fan.

“As the tickets are more valuable, our fan behavior is becoming better,” he said. “When the tickets didn’t have the same value or they didn’t look at the team as much, many times it would be an element of people who wanted to come to the United Center just to cause trouble and get in fights. We don’t have that.”

As for next season and beyond, Wirtz said the company has a commitment to something he calls the “Blackhawk culture.”

Nurturing that culture has already yielded two Cups and what Wirtz sees as parity with the Bears, Bulls, Cubs and White Sox. “We [were] always fifth man on the totem pole as far as other sports,” he said “I think we’re looked at in the same light now.”

This story first appeared at chicagogrid.com



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