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Sunday, December 15

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Bears in Five

Running the Gamut of Emotions
by Craig Aichele, Ramsin Canon & Friends

What can you say after a game like that? Nothing. No, wait, what am I talking about? You can say a million things, like holy crap! Or What the hell was that!? Or, Man oh man! Or Sweet Fancy Moses! Or, Phew!

One: Holy Crap!
Did you see that game? Trailing 20-3 at halftime, the Bears scored three non-offensive touchdowns to come back and beat the lowly Arizona Cardinals 24-23. The victory was reminiscint of those two miracle victories in the 2001 season against the 49ers and the Browns, where special teams and defense really came through to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat; the difference being that in those games the offenses really stepped up. The ability to "find a way to win" is usually just a footbal cliché, but when they should have been demoralized the Bears stepped up, and that counts for something.

Two: What the Hell Was That?
Seriously? How did we let the Cardinals defense shut us down? Their strategy was simple: if we can generate enough pressure on Grossman and go up early, we'll remove the running game as a threat and count on Grossman making some mistakes. The problem with that strategy, however, is usually that the Bears O-Line is good enough to protect the quarterback; not last night. The Cardinals were in the back field on almost every play, and solid coverage by the Cardinals' secondary meant Rex was forced to hold onto the ball longer. Voila, four interceptions. The shocker was that the Cardinals were able to go up early with a seemingly effortless early drive.

Three: Man oh Man!
Although some might see this as ominous, the fact of the matter is that a terrible night by the Bears offense didn't translate to success by the Cardinals' offense — in other words, the repeated turnovers by the offense in Bears territory didn't always lead to points. The Bears defense, despite not looking as sparkling as they have, especially early on, was still able to limit the Cardinals' potent offense. Further, in the clutch they forced important turnovers and held the Cardinals on several essential third downs.

Four: Sweet Fancy Moses!
It is unheard of for a team to go into the fourth quarter trailing by that much and still win the game. But the Bears simply refused to lose and when it became clear that Rex was not going to straighten out at any point during the game, the rest of the team stepped up, including Devon Hester, who ran one of the most brilliant punt returns we've ever seen. Hester seemed to know what every other player on the field was thinking and planning on doing, and his timing and cutting was precision.

Five. Phew!
Still undefeated. Prepare for the talking heads to begin muttering about this team being paper tigers if they can't put away a team like the Cardinals with ease, but don't listen. 6 and Ohhh.

Fire in Five

...returns next week for the playoffs.
by Steve Gillies

Pucks in Five

Five Points for Success
by Jeremy Piniak

If a team wins, and no one sees it, does it still count?

The Blackhawks continued their uneven play this past week, besting Nashville once again with a superb effort from Nicolai Khabibulin and a well-rounded game, then following with a road loss to the lowly Blues, blowing yet another two-goal first period lead. While many trends I noted last week continued (Havlat scoring at will, defensive lapses), the big story was the attendance — or lack thereof — at Thursday's Nashville game, their second home game of the season. The announced attendance was 8,008, but that relates to tickets sold: actual attendance by all reports was a few thousand less than that. Still, the announced attendance is believed to be the smallest for the Blackhawks in their 11 years of playing at the United Center, and though it was a cold weekday night against a relatively new (though talented) team, this could be a disturbing omen of how far the franchise has fallen in Chicago in the last 10 years, and in the NHL as a whole. What follows is a five point primer on what the organ-i-zation can do to return to glory.

One: Win. Win. Win.
This one is straightforward enough. If you put a winning product out on the ice, fans will want to watch it. Easier said then done, but the team has made steps in the right direction with their off-season maneuvers. Even if the Blackhawks end up with a losing record this season, the team they've put together is fast-paced and much more exciting to watch than usual Hawks teams. However, short-term success on the ice will not necessarily equal a long-term commitment from fans. After years of mismanagement and poor play, the fan base is a shell of what it once was. With a fan base as deeply eroded as it is, the Hawks will need nothing short of a Stanley Cup title or sustained success to bring fans back to the UC.

Two: This New-Fangled Television Contraption
The Blackhawks are one of the most storied franchises in the NHL, yet in many ways, they are one of the oldest teams in their relations to the media as well. One of the most puzzling aspects is the team's policy of not showing home games on TV. The theory behind this archaic stipulation is that owner Bill Wirtz believes broadcasting games would hurt attendance, as people would rather stay home and watch the contest. I've got news for him: People are staying home anyway, and the lack of airtime just ensures that less people are aware of how the Blackhawks are doing night after night. In today's modern world, there are a million things that can distract the potential fan, from satellite TV to the Internet, and the team would be lucky enough that fans watch a whole game in the first place. On top of that, the cost of tickets can be prohibitive. I know I don't have a grand lying around to buy season tickets, and for a suburban family of four, a trip to a game would involve at least a $100 outlay, along with travel time. Yet young kids can only watch half of their favorite team's games because of the no TV policy. It made little sense then, even less now, and needs to be dropped.

Three: Men of the People
Can you name one player on this year's Bulls team? Cubs? Bears or Sox? Now, what about one player from this year's Blackhawks team? Or, geez, one player from the last decade of Blackhawks teams? Even if someone is not a Bears fan, they'll know who Rex Grossman is. Same with Paul Konerko and the White Sox, Kerry Wood and the Cubs.

Lack of media coverage and on-ice success can be blamed, sure, but the rest of Chicago's sports teams seem to work to not only market their team but their players, through advertising, public appearances, autograph signings and TV commentaries. Last year I walked past a U.S. Cellular store that was having Joe Crede sign autographs and there was already a line of a hundred people waiting even though he wasn't due to arrive for another hour. These are the kind of things that will help establish a community identity between franchise and city.

The Blackhawks have always seemed to rely on their history and tradition as the ultimate marketing tool, which is understandable as an Original Six team. But you can't sell the past without people caring about the present. One of the edicts the NHL passed down in their marketing guidelines this year was to focus on the players, as there's a wealth of young talented star power to sell. The Blackhawks even have a player tied for the scoring lead right now, but no one will know that's Martin Havlat. The ad campaign of "Player Name is a Blackhawk and Skill" is a good start at introducing the current players, and the preseason meet and greet at Dave and Busters is great. Now, get them out into the community, opening malls, kissing babies, anything to increase their visibility to the common person who doesn't already follow the team.

Four: Pack the Stands
As I said above, watching games on TV does not mimic the live experience. The roar of the crowd, the speed of the games, the hits, and the ability to see plays develop away from the puck are things you can't get from a broadcast. So what better way to sell fans on games than getting them into the seats?

To be fair, again, the team does provide some great deals. Family Nights are a great way for that family of four to see those games and develop fans, giving two free complimentary tickets to kids under 12 when two adult tickets are bought, for a select schedule of weekend games. Likewise, the day-of-game $8 tickets for people showing student IDs is an awesome way to get some last minute fans into the seats, and something I took advantage of even after I graduated.

While these are good promotions, I don't know how many people know they exist. Are these target marketed to their respective audience? There's a wealth of college kids at UIC, less than a mile away. Get on campus and promote! Same deal at Depaul, Northwestern, Loyola, U of C. These are a great start, but continue it and reach out to the more casual fans. At the Crede autograph signing I mentioned, representatives were also handing out a voucher for 2 free upper deck tickets. And before the Sox were World Series champions, their half-price Monday games were always good draws, regardless of opponent.

Make promotional cross-deals with companies, such as signing up for cell service gets you a four-pack of half-price tickets, or eat 10 Potbelly subs, get two free tickets. Tie in with youth groups as fundraiser tickets. Anything to get people into seats. You just might earn a new fan, and at the least, pick up some extra revenue rather than a seat that would stay empty.

Five: Dollar Bill and Common Sense
The last point is one that is least likely to happen anytime soon, but is also the overriding factor on why many fans have left and have never come back. The Wirtz family has owned the Hawks since 1954, with current President Bill Wirtz in charge since 1966. In that time, Wirtz has gained a reputation as frugal, being nicknamed "Dollar Bill" for his reluctance to pay high salaries to star players, dating back to Bobby Hull in the '70s, on through Denis Savard, Jeremy Roenick and Chris Chelios. Fans have watched players grow into superstars, then depart to greener pastures or be traded off for cheaper alternatives. While this reputation may not hold true today, thanks to the NHL's salary cap and the Blackhawks having two of the top 20 highest paid players in the league, it's a pattern that has turned off many of the oldest Hawks backers.

This and all of the above have created apathy and anger at the mismanagement of the franchise. All combined are slowly killing professional hockey in Chicago in the last decade. However, all these factors can be erased if you go back to my first point. If you win, the people will come.

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Comments

Andrew / October 18, 2006 11:44 AM

I know there's no baseball columns this week, but WTF is up with Juan Uribe possibly shooting somebody for walking too close to his Jeep?

Steve / October 18, 2006 4:09 PM

As a devoted follower of the great and wise Tommy Lasorda, I know nothing of October baseball except the playoffs.

Who is Juan Uribe? What's a jeep?? And what good does speculating about what went on in another country many, many miles away do any of us??? (Besides Kenny Williams, of course, who will likely need to look for a new shortstop if the accusations are true and if the Dominican legal system has any teeth.)

Lou / October 19, 2006 10:35 AM

At least we know that if it was Neifi Perez, his shot would have missed.

jeremy / October 19, 2006 11:15 AM

Yes, but I'll bet you Juan took the first shot he had rather than waiting for a good one.

 

About the Author(s)

Craig Aichele, Ramsin Canon and friends are not really friends but rather fierce competitors on the fantasy gridiron. They meet weekly to embarass each other with random football trivia at the Noble Street League HQ. This is where they write their column. Craig knows where every professional athlete went to college, and in some cases the names of their roommates. Creepy. Send comments to bears@gapersblock.com.

Jeremy Piniak grew up watching hockey on all levels and is a lifelong Blackhawks fan who, inexplicably, still has hope that Bill Wirtz will once again provide Chicago with a championship hockey team and broadcast home games on TV, though he still mourns the destruction of Chicago Stadium. Every week he'll bring you five talking points on the state of hockey in Chicago (including, when possible, the minor-league Wolves and Hounds). Send comments to pucks@gapersblock.com

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