Blackhawks to televise seven home games

By Rory Spears PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

CHICAGO (Ticker)—It didn’t take long after the passing of Chicago Blackhawks owner William Wirtz for the team to start moving in a new direction.

Less than six weeks after Wirtz passed away from cancer, Wirtz’s son Rockwell “Rocky” Wirtz, the club’s chairman, took action on something that has alienated fans of the team for years.

He started putting some home games on television.

William Wirtz had a long standing policy of trying to “protect his season reservation holders” by not showing home games on television. The results of this have been nothing short of devastating for a team trying to recruit new generations of fans while the on-ice product has suffered. Chicago has made the postseason only once in the last 10 seasons.

“There is an old saying that goes, ‘You have come a long way baby,’ and we have done that in a few short weeks,” Rocky Wirtz said. “Our organization is excited about the buzz going on in Chicago now about this team, and we want to share it with our fans. But I believe there are whole generation of fans who don’t know who the Blackhawks are.”

It was expected for years that when William Wirtz passed on, his son Peter would take over the operation of the team. That theory quickly dissolved when Peter issued a statement shortly after his father’s death, stating he was stepping aside to run other parts of the family’s business and his brother Rocky would take over the Blackhawks.

“There was always a plan of succession in place,” Rocky Wirtz said. “If my uncle Michael Wirtz was still alive he would be here talking today, not me.

“I joined our company and signed on to the plan, my role is to make the business better both now and for the future generations of Wirtz family descendants.”

Chicago fans don’t really know Rocky but hoped he would announce a change in the team’s television policy, and Rocky didn’t disappoint them. Telling a packed house of reporters, team employees and broadcasters that seven of the remaining home games would appear on local TV, starting with Sunday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings.

“The two best places to experience Blackhawks hockey are at the United Center and in the comfort of your own home,” Rocky Wirtz said. “We are going to grow this franchise and we are going to rebuild our fan base. Putting home games on TV is one way to do it.”

Seven home games might not seem like a lot, or as many as Blackhawks fans would like, but it wasn’t easy trying to put together a TV package after the NHL season started. Most major advertising sponsors had already committed their budgets for the year and there was little the team and Rocky Wirtz could do.

Most importantly though, Rocky Wirtz found a sponsor and some openings in the Comcast Sportsnet schedule. Seven is the amount of games now, but Rocky Wirtz didn’t rule out more this season if the opportunity presents itself. Wirtz also wanted to make sure the broadcasts would be available to Blackhawks fans in high-definition (HD), he didn’t disappoint them in that area either as all home games can be seen in HD.

“If you are lucky enough to have high definition TV you know that hockey is even a better game to watch,” Rocky Wirtz said. “We are looking into making our road games available in HD next season.

“As for adding more home games, if this is a success and people continue to come out to the United Center, we would be crazy not to televise more games. Even this year if possible.”

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Updated Monday, Nov 5, 2007