On Thursday, the Chicago Blackhawks announced their television schedule for the 2013-2014 regular season.
On the national level, Chicago will be featured exclusively on NBC, as well as on NBC Sports Network 12 times. That ties them for a league-high and is the maximum allowed by the NHL’s national television agreement.
While that’s impressive, what will really excite Blackhawks fans is the amount of times they will be able to watch games on local channels. Seventy games will be shown on Comcast SportsNet Chicago and WGN-TV Channel 9, both of which are the team’s official television partners.
Having Blackhawks games on Comcast will also include “Blackhawks Pregame Live” before the contest and “Blackhawks Postgame Live” after. This upcoming season will mark the ninth consecutive season the Blackhawks will be shown on Comcast and the sixth consecutive for WGN.
Three Chicago pre-season games will also be shown on Comcast and all games will be shown in high definition.
A lot of this coverage can be chalked up to Chicago’s recent winning ways, the hype surrounding the young and successful team, or simply the size of the bandwagon. But longtime Blackhawks fans know the credit really goes to Rocky Wirtz.
Wirtz, the current team President, took over the reins of the family-owned franchise after his father Bill Wirtz passed away in September of 2007.
During the four decades that “Dollar Bill” Wirtz was still President of the franchise, hardly any games were visible on television. If you wanted to watch Blackhawk hockey, you’d have to buy a ticket and show up at Chicago Stadium. It was a stringent business strategy that didn’t benefit the fans.
The 2008-2009 season, the season after “Dollar Bill” passed, marked the television change for Chicago. For the first time in team history all 82 regular season games and all playoff games were broadcast on television. Twenty games that season were aired on WGN, the first time the Blackhawks were seen on local television in over 30 years.
For those doing the math, it took Chicago 82 years to get all of their games on television.
The long-held frugal approach to televising Blackhawk games made “Dollar Bill” unpopular with fans. So much so that fans were excited about his passing and the team being in the hands of someone new.
Now that the Blackhawks have agreed to be exposed to a television viewing audience, they’ve seen success as people are eager to watch.
Last season’s Game 6 against the Detroit Red Wings smashed ratings records, surpassing the Chicago Cubs versus the Chicago White Sox cross-town rivalry. Game 3 against the Boston Bruins averaged over 4 million viewers, making it the most-watched Stanley Cup Final game on cable in 11 years. The five most-watched NHL games in the history of NBC Sports Network, all include the Blackhawks.
However, the television coverage hasn’t put a dent in Chicago’s game gate attendance. While the Blackhawks have raised their ticket prices yet again, over 300 consecutive Blackhawk games have been sold-out at the United Center. There is a waiting list for Blackhawk season tickets.
Whether it’s at home on the television or in person at the United Center, it feels like everyone is watching the Blackhawks.