Blackhawks’ streak has Chicago going crazy
BY MIKE THOMAS email@example.com February 27, 2013 11:13PM
Updated: April 1, 2013 11:52AM
As the Blackhawks ride a 19-game point streak to who knows where, fans are beyond pumped.
Fans were pumped, too, when New York Yankees slugger Joe DiMaggio smacked hit after hit for a total of 56 consecutive in 1941.
And they were pumped when the Oklahoma Sooners won 47 consecutive games between 1953 and 1957.
Ditto when Billy Beane’s Oakland Athletics went on a once-in-a-century 20-game tear in 2002.
“There’s something about sports that goes beyond the normal range of experience,” says Massachusetts-based sports psychologist George Mumford.
Mumford worked with the Bulls between 1993 and 1998, when Michael Jordan ruled the NBA, so he knows something about winning streaks and hot starts.
While people are naturally attracted to winners and win-driven emotions are contagious, he says, “it’s deeper than that.”
“There’s just something about being able to get out of the ordinary and just wonder for a minute or imagine yourself being in that situation, with the game on the line and making the big shot.”
Nowadays, for businesses that rely on Blackhawks mavens for revenues, it’s like playoffs mania.
That’s how local owners and managers describe the fan enthusiasm that has spurred an uptick in their sagging Blackhawks-related revenue after a protracted NHL lockout.
Kate McGovern, a bartender at Chelios Pub & Grill in Aurora (which is owned by the family of former Hawks star Chris Chelios), attributes the Hawks mania to a widespread realization that fans are “witnessing something that they might never seen again. It’s very contagious in here.”
No doubt that’s what Hawks president and CEO John McDonough likes to hear. His team will have its 200th consecutive sellout Friday night at the United Center.
“We have a whole new generation of fans that have been introduced to the Hawks,” McDonough says. “Seventy percent of our fans are brand new.”
Nonetheless, he warns: “Perspective is an important word through all this. I’ve actually had people ask me, ‘Are you going to lose?’ We just have to be realistic.”
Hawks super-fan Keith Jackson, who owns all four Gunzo’s hockey pro shops in the area, shares a similar mind-set. He has followed the Hawks for 50 years and says the current buzz takes him back to the heyday of legendary players Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita in the 1960s.
But Jackson has been around long enough to know that streaks don’t last, no matter how much fans might want them to.
“It’s exceptionally exciting, don’t get me wrong,” he says of the hoopla, “but you never take it for granted because the National Hockey League has great parity. So the truth is, any team could beat you on any given day. The amazing thing is that so far they haven’t.”
Because this hockey season is roughly 41 percent shorter and games are played more closely together, more fans also are packing area eateries and bars, especially those near the United Center, during games rather than just before and after.
“It started hot because of the lockout and because of the shortened season,” says Matt Doherty, general manager of WestEnd bar on Madison. “Every game became more of an event. We saw it when they opened on the road in L.A.; we were busy all day. And it’s kind of growing from there. I think the more they’re winning, the more the buzz is ‘We’ve got to get out and watch the Hawks game.’”
The Crossroads bar on Madison, where revenues were down 15 to 20 percent during the lockout, has benefitted similarly. Manager Matthew Breen says it has been “the best February since we opened” four years ago.
“It’s been nonstop,” he says. “It’s been like a playoff atmosphere. People are really excited.”
And for businesses, it’s a matter of getting while the getting is good.
For some establishments that rely heavily on the Hawks for patronage, the increase could make up for sales that plummeted while the lockout dragged on from Oct. 11 to Jan. 19.
“I’m doubling,” says Sports World Chicago partner Brad Rosen, whose tourist-frequented merchandise store is located across from Wrigley Field.
“I got crushed during the holidays. I sold very minimal Blackhawks stuff.”
In TV land, Comcast SportsNet recently posted its highest regular-season ratings to date, drawing more than 258,000 households (or a healthy 7.41 share) for a Feb. 19 game against the Vancouver Canucks.
Overall ratings are up by 87 percent, the network reports, and key demographics also are seeing bumps.
According to Comcast SportsNet president Jim Corno, the Hawks’ opening streak has buoyed every other broadcast on the network, from news and talk shows to Bulls games. The effect is similar to years when Michael Jordan led the Bulls to successive championships, Corno says, or when the White Sox won the World Series in 2005 after an 88-year drought.
Corno confidently predicts that by the regular season’s end in mid-April, Comcast will have made up for its lockout viewership losses of 108,000 homes per game despite airing far fewer games (only 16 so far and 39 total).
“I just wish we’d been smart enough to see this [phenomenon] and raise our [advertising] rates,” Corno says with a laugh.
Even though individual establishments are scrambling to make up for lockout hits, University of Chicago sports economist Allen Sanderson says the Hawks — whose fan base, like those of the Bulls and Bears, is largely hyperlocal — have “zero” economic impact on the city. When there weren’t games to attend or watch, he explains, many would-be revelers merely spent their money elsewhere. Now they’re back.
In fact, he adds, only the Cubs and the Chicago Marathon (in that order) have a significant effect on Chicago’s economy because they attract people from outside the city.
Money matters aside, the streak’s spirit-lifting effect during a typically dreary Chicago winter is undeniable.
So maybe there should be a lockout more often.
McGovern laughs at the thought.