Chicago Blackhawks – The future of the NHL’s brand?

Chicago, IL – This week it was reported that the 2015 Winter Classic will be held somewhere in our nation’s capital between the Washington Capitals and surprisingly, or maybe not so surprising, the Chicago Blackhawks.

The reason it is somewhat surprising is because the Blackhawks are not a rival of the Capitals in fact they are not even a conference foe and that maybe what was the deciding factor in selecting a Western Conference team.

There is no question there is a disparity between the two conferences. The West has all the big boys with the exception of the Boston Bruins. There is no better way than to bridge this gap than to have the East start playing the West. The Hawks are even opening up their home opener against the lowly Buffalo Sabres and we all know with the Hawks the game will still be sold out which probably is not true with other markets.

Why the Hawks over the Kings? The Hawks bring with them a bigger fan base and a sexier brand of hockey that translates to bigger audiences. Even the casual fan can appreciate the skill they bring and their youthful team draws in children.

The Winter Classic also will have the two teams participating spotlighted by HBO following the teams 24/7 and capturing the teams’ essence. In order to interest HBO you need to have market interest and teams that are easily marketed and the Chicago Blackhawks fit both of these criteria. They have big stars, characters on the team and they have a passionate and dedicated following not only countrywide but internationally as well due to so many European players on the team.

While the Stanley Cup Final did alright with television ratings there is no question that they would have done better had the Chicago Blackhawks been in the Final instead of the Kings. This year’s ratings did not beat last year Boston/Chicago series.

Actually the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks have done the best in SCF ratings. I have nothing against the LA Kings I’m just stating the facts here. We all know that the East and more specifically the Northeast is where all the media power is and the Chicago Blackhawks are an easier sell. The Boston Bruins would be the only east team that can command as much fan base in the US.

Don’t believe me go to 1

Now it is also no secret that the biggest sports network ESPN does not even show hockey. Deadspin did a study that shows only 2.7% of their time is dedicated to hockey. 2

However in Chicago on ESPN1000 AM radio because of the success and demand of the Blackhawks fan base the Blackhawks are discussed and talked about on the radio by both the morning shows Carmen & Jurko and the afternoon show Waddle and Silvy on a regular basis. It still isn’t up there with the NFL or NBA but its better than in other cities.

While it is no secret ESPN champions the NBA as they carry their games, was it not the Chicago Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane that also bridged that gap with tweeting and befriending Miami Heat star Lebron James. He along with Patrick Sharp even attended a Miami Heat/Chicago Bulls game in Chicago to see Lebron. So what you say? Ever heard of Public Relations? If the NHL can interest even some NBA fans then that is a win.

It is also known that sponsors/advertisers where not thrilled that it was LA instead of the Chicago Blackhawks that made the Final. Now is a chance for the NHL to right this and make it up to them as one of the partners that give the league exposure and power. The other huge contributor to the NHL’s success – the fans and their fiscal input drives the league.

Chicago Blackhawk fans bring purchasing power with them. Blackhawks fans spend not only on tickets and apparel but they also travel and bring in revenue to other cities. No sooner was it announced that it would be the Hawks people on twitter were already asking about when sweaters would be available for sale and also making arrangements for trips to DC. If you don’t believe this ask the St. Louis Blues and the Nashville Predators who are constantly being invaded in their own stadiums with Blackhawks fans.

By the way, Blues and Predators you are doing an injustice to your cities and fan bases if you think you can keep out the Hawks fans it simply won’t happen. Hawks fans bring with them revenue for your cities and your franchises which means more HRR that only benefits your franchises and all NHL clubs.

The Chicago Blackhawks also represents the audience they are trying to cater to young people who want to be entertained by a team with speed and skill. It is no surprise that in Illinois the rise of youth enrolling in hockey classes is up 8.7% and entering top 5 in the United States thanks to the success of the Blackhawks. 3

If the NHL is smart they will continue to cash in on the ROMI (return on marketing investment) of the Chicago Blackhawks. It costs the league virtually nothing as John McDonough and his team with the Chicago Blackhawks has already done most of the marketing and packaging leg work.

Every single Blackhawks player is well spoken and has an ease with cameras and the spotlight even the shy soft spoken ones. It is something the Blackhawks have prepared these young men for. This is a good team of highly skilled exciting players that just happen to be character individuals who also happen to look like movie stars. Now if that is not a marketing PR persons dream I don’t know what is.

The Blackhawks brand carries with it significant weight. For one thing it doesn’t hurt that they are also an Original Six franchise and have longevity on their side and an established fan base. We are talking generational here which understands hockey and the NHL well. Asking the Blackhawks fan base to carry other teams really isn’t stretching them because they are passionate fans.

The NHL tried to make Sidney Crosby the face of the NHL in the United States and while I like Crosby the better face now would be Mr. Showtime, Patrick Kane in the United States for several reasons. First he is American that has its own built in patriotic pluses. Second he is charismatic and he is not afraid of the spotlight. Third he is plain old exciting to watch on the ice and dynamic. You just need to see his sick cellys.

Patrick Kane understands that hockey is show business and it is all about entertainment. I know someone; somewhere is going to bring up his past indiscretions. In all honesty that he is slightly flawed as we all are, makes him human and someone we can relate to. You can not tell me even as a foe he does not entertain you.

Crosby may in fact no longer be the face you want to market in Canada. Captain Canada Jonathan Toews fits the bill better but I leave that discussion for Canadians. Canada doesn’t need the game sold to them it’s the United States that the NHL needs to work on.

If other fan bases don’t want prosperity and more HRR because they are sick of seeing the Chicago Blackhawks then I would propose to those fans get out and support your teams. Purchase more than one sweater, travel with your team, follow your teams AHL affiliate, get involved. I can think of several markets that have excellent teams that just need a push. In the meantime Chicago can carry you after all it is the city of big shoulders.

1.TV by the numbers website
2 Dedspin website article by Patrick Burns 7/26/13
3. United States of hockey posted by Chris Peters on 6/17/14

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