What the Chicago Blackhawks Can Teach Us About PR

blackhawks

Photo courtesy of Anna Marevska, Cision

This is a guest post by supervisor of newspaper media research, and avid Blackhawks fan, Kevin Miller. 

After two Stanley Cup wins, the second in front of 8.16 million viewers on NBC, and a sea of roughly two million fans waiting to bask in the glory of Chicago’s return to prominence, it makes sense to say that the Chicago Blackhawks must be a media and public relations-savvy organization.

Wins aren’t the only things that get fans in the seats. Looking at this organization from the early 2000s to now, we’ve seen it go from the low-of-the-lows to soaring heights, which makes one wonder if bringing the cup back to Chicago was the only thing that turned these players and this team into media darlings. In 2006, the Chicago Blackhawks were named the Worst Franchise in Sports by ESPN after failing to make the playoffs since the ’01-’02 season. In a town that houses the Cubs, a team that hasn’t won the World Series since 1908, losing isn’t exactly a public relations nightmare—the club still fills the seats and fans still stand behind their team. So it wasn’t just winning games that drove up the team’s popularity–the organization’s PR team went into overdrive and made some smart media moves that all brands can subscribe to.

Be open to the media
The true point when this team started their ascent to stardom came with Rocky Wirtz’s newfound ownership in 2007 and the appointment of John McDonough, formerly of the Chicago Cubs, as President.  McDonough instituted what Forbes Magazine called “The Greatest Sports-Business Turnaround Ever” with moves to broadcast Blackhawks’ games via WGN radio, organizing a summer convention, bringing the Winter Classic back to the city as well as all 82 games to local television via Comcast SportsNet. Since then, the club has opened up media access to the players, coaches and staff in addition to the President & CEO and owner, who regularly attend press conferences and media engagements and even open up the locker rooms (something we’re used to in other sports leagues, like the NFL) for players to speak with reporters.

Put a face on your brand
Another bright public relations move the Blackhawks made has been to put a face, or faces, on the franchise. While the Blackhawks logo is literally a face, it doesn’t necessarily give the fans someone they can connect with. Wirtz and McDonough have given the fans that through talented young stars Jonathan Toews (25) and Patrick Kane (24), both Conn Smythe (MVP) trophy winners in the past two Stanley Cup Finals wins, respectively. These players aren’t just pasted up on billboards and posters, they brought the cup back to Chicago, literally; Toews and Kane, in conjunction with the rest of the players, have brought the cup to local bars, events (even a Jimmy Buffett concert) and down Michigan Avenue and Columbus Street in the Loop to the two biggest sports rallies in recent memory. The RedEye even has a hashtag, #cuptracker, for following the course of the cup throughout Chicago and through the hands of the players.

Be gracious to your competitors
What sets this team apart from many across all leagues is their dedication to sportsmanship. Sure, the players beat each other senseless, have a few teeth knocked out (Duncan Keith) and generally dislike one another during the course of a series, but at the end they shake hands and give congratulations. In one giant handshake to the city of Boston, the Blackhawks took out a full-page advertisement in the Boston Globe to thank the Boston Bruins, their organization, fans and the entire city for their generous hospitality, love and respect of the game, and their strength in these challenging times.

Getting the W doesn’t hurt, though
But okay, we fully acknowledge that winning the Stanley Cup does help sell t-shirts. All the more reason to put the hard work and effort into your brand!