Today’s Chicago Tribune details what is perhaps the nadir of the Chicago Blackhawks under Bill Wirtz: free tickets there can’t even be given away:
“One of the National Hockey League’s charter franchises, the Blackhawks have been so desperate to attract fans to a half-empty United Center that the organization has been offering free seats through numerous promotions, including an e-mail campaign that put top-notch freebies the length of a hockey stick from the ice.
“It’s called papering the house,” said Barry Melrose, a former NHL player and now a hockey analyst for ESPN. “I’m not surprised they are doing it. It’s been a terrible period for the Blackhawks. People are frustrated and angry, and the fans are showing it the only way they can, by staying away.”
Some relevant facts: owner Wirtz has held hard on his refusal to televise Blackhawk home games — all of them. That’s a policy that runs counter not only to the rest of the NHL but modern common sense. Even Abe Pollin recognized the imperative of getting the Caps’ home games on TV decades ago, when his building was half full. And one of Ted Leonsis’ first accomplishments as owner was to get all 82 Caps’ games on TV.
Chicago is and long has been one of America’s great sports towns. It still has great fans, and those fans have proven that they will lavishly support competently run professional sports teams (think Cubs, White Sox, Bears). But with the the recent feats of the White Sox and Bears in mind, who can much blame the city’s hockey fans for staying away from the United Center’s hockey nights in droves?
This state of affairs on Lake Michigan is no trifling matter. Beyond being an Original Six franchise, the Hawks have given birth to hockey legends. It was Bobby Hull in his Hawks’ sweater on the cover of Life Magazine; Larmer . . . Savard . . . Chelios . . . Roenick; the Hawks drafted Dominik Hasek. Bill Wirtz more or less has full prerogative to run the club as he sees fit. Right now, he’s running it into the ground.