What the Chicago Blackhawks Can Teach Us About PR


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! 

2 replies
  1. @scmmas says:

    Nice touch, Blackhawks Organization! I thought that full page ad was really classy and heartfelt. It was just another reason I'm glad I cheered for you once my Boys were out. Well played!

  2. nancyra53@sympatico.ca'
    @Cangal48 says:

    The cheering and loyalty to the Blackhawks doesn't just stop in Chicago, it resonates throughout the world, none more so than the United States' northern neighbour Canada. There are hundreds of thousands of Blackhawks fans who revere the Indian Head logo as much as Chicagoians. When the Hawks one in Game 6 there was no greater pride than from this life long Blackhawks fan 54 + years and counting. I purchased the NHL Center Ice sports package so I could follow my boys throughout the regular season and beyond, believe me these sports packages aren't cheap. Even today, I watch ESPN NHL Classic games featuring the Hawks of old in addition to the NHL Canada network. No matter how many times I've watched the Blackhawks, it never gets old or tiring. I have merchandise which I proudly wear and display in my home. I fell in love with the Indian Head logo back in 1961, when I would watch games with my late father who taught me the basics in understanding the sport that I love. When I first saw the Blackhawks vs Toronto Maple Leafs on a black/white tv screen standing proudly at attention during the singing of the National Anthems, my eyes were drawn immediately to that Indian Head…from then on it was love, I had to learn everything about the Chicago Blackhawks organization. To this day, I cheer proud and strong for my team the Chicago Blackhawks…the BEST team in the entire NHL.

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