Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz dies

After decades of indifference, his takeover of franchise put team back in vogue with three Stanley Cup championships

In shocking news, Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz died Tuesday at the age of 70 after a brief illness. The announcement stunned fans, media, and players alike. Condolences poured in from all over Chicago, including the city’s sports teams, the business community (he oversaw the family’s liquor distribution business), Mayor Brandon Johnson, Gov. JB Pritzker, the NHL, and others. 

Rocky Wirtz was the son of Bill Wirtz, who was the previous chairman of the Blackhawks, who in turn was the son of Arthur Wirtz as the team was kept in the family for decades. After his elders kept the team’s home games off TV for decades – to the point where they were the only professional team left among NHL, MLB, and NBA teams to do so, Rocky Wirtz  decided to end the blackouts in 2008 so he can better showcase new, budding stars in Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane – coming a year after the elder Wirtz died, who didn’t like the idea of “giving away” the product on TV – free, pay, or otherwise. 

The move worked as the United Center was soon sold out and under his watch, also saw two outdoor home games in Chicago – a memorable one from Wrigley Field in 2009 and another from Soldier Field in 2015. Wirtz helped assemble a team who would lead the Blackhawks to win three Stanley Cup titles between 2010 and 2015 as the organization went from one of the worst in sports to the model franchise everyone wanted to emulate

Wirtz’s team is also a founding partner in Comcast SportsNet Chicago (now known as NBC Sports Chicago), along with the Bulls and White Sox (the Cubs left the partnership in 2019 to launch their own RSN.) Wirtz was completely media friendly as opposed to his father; he was perhaps the most-liked sports owner in town by being a humble, down-to-earth person. 

But there were also some controversial moves and missteps he made along the way. In 2013, Wirtz made headlines by ordering Comcast SportsNet Chicago to fire reporter Susannah Collins when it was discovered she made some rather racy and NSFW online videos. Then came the mishandling of the Kyle Beach scandal, which tarnished the team’s 2010 Stanley Cup title after it was later known the team’s video coach sexually assaulted him during this time. Several people in the organization were fired as a result, including GM Stan Bowman. Wirtz did apologize to fans for the scandal, but not before he had a tense exchange with a Chicago Tribune reporter over the subject. As the team struggled on the ice, ratings dropped and attendance fell as the Blackhawks regressed to their pre-renaissance ways, “worst franchise in sports” and all.  

But in the last few weeks, the Blackhawks rebounded in the prestige department – at least in Chicago, when the team won the draft lottery and selected seventeen year-old phenom Connor Bedard in the first round, sparking renewed interest as the Blackhawks’ new management team (led by new GM Kyle Davidson) plot a course toward the future and a return to respectability. 

Still, the death of Rocky Wirtz is indeed a tremendous loss for Chicago. While many local financial moguls are decamping for greener pastures in Florida or elsewhere, Wirtz continued to invest in Chicago by building a Blackhawks practice facility near the United Center, and a new development planned for his family farm in north suburban Lake County, among other projects. Despite those missteps I mentioned above, he loved the city and truly cared for the people in it – unlike his dad. 


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