Chicago Blackhawks: The rise and fall

The Blackhawks celebrate their 2010 Stanley Cup parade. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

 

Once one of the premier teams in sports, a sex scandal sends the team’s popularity into the toilet 

Scandal gives Chicago’s image yet another black eye – one of a lot as the team’s decline also reflects the city’s

If you’ve read the blog over the years, this space has devoted quite a bit to Chicago sports and how it relates to media, often with a lot of scorn (especially toward one team in general.) But apparently, this one takes the cake – the Chicago Blackhawks were involved in a scandal where a video coach Brad Aldrich sexually assaulted a minor-league player called up to play during the team’s 2010 Stanley Cup run, where numerous execs, the team’s coach, and the GM all covered it up. The findings of the investigation by law firm Jenner & Block were released on Tuesday.

GM Stan Bowman resigned Tuesday, the NHL fined the Blackhawks $2 million, and more fallout from the scandal may be yet to come.

This is not the first scandal Chicago sports has endured in recent years. In 2015, the Jackie Robinson West Little League Team was stripped of their 2014 U.S. title after an investigation found there were several ineligible players on the team due to violating residency requirements. The scandal tarnished what was a feel-good story regarding Black kids – something we don’t see in the media too often – winning a championship, celebrated with a parade and a rally downtown.

And now we have another championship tarnished.

It’s not a good look for Chicago, but then again what hasn’t been in the last decade and a half. Chicago’s reputation has been tarnished worldwide for years – thanks mainly to President Trump and conservative media, who constantly ripped the city’s liberal leaders and residents for out-of-control crime and other issues, using “Chicago” as a code word for Black people to score political points… of course, the leadership at City Hall isn’t helping and keep in mind Chicago was the only major city to have two separate rounds of looting and mayhem after George Floyd’s killing. The bad publicity has worn down the city with every negative image and it just keeps getting worse. 

The sad scenario regarding Chicago is not only playing out on Fox News, but the mainstream media as well, with CNBC’s The News With Shepard Smith and others devoting time to Mayor Lightfoot’s vaccine mandate and her clash with the FOP; the city’s crime epidemic; and of course, the Blackhawks’ sex scandal.

This space has devoted ink to Chicago’s image problem time and time again. Of course, the media needs website clicks and Nielsen ratings to boost their sorry bottom lines, so Chicago is a convenient scapegoat (and yes, some fools thought the Chicago Party Aunt cartoon would save our moribund image.) But since our city and its institutions won’t change the culture of corruption around here – just look at the extent Hubbard is protecting radio slimeball Eric Ferguson – Chicago is just giving them a never-ending stream of fodder, because there is never any accountability in this city for anything.  

The last Chicago sports scandal wasn’t too long ago: in 2015, Jackie Robinson West was stripped of their 2014 U.S. Little League title as shown here, due to violating residency requirements.

As for the Blackhawks, the controversy damages a brand which was in a sorry state for decades (notably for those home TV blackouts), then soared after owner Bill Wirtz died and his son Rocky took steps to bring the franchise back to the forefront of Chicago’s sports scene. Then came the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field and the three Cups. The Blackhawks became the model franchise, helping boost the ratings fortunes of the NHL.

But since their last Cup title in 2015, the team has had only one playoff series win, local ratings have fallen, and is now off to the worst regular season start in 25 years with a product that rivals the Bears as practically unwatchable. The Blackhawks obviously regained the title as the worst organization in professional sports – even worse than The NFL Lakefront Team (TM), who are trying to bolt out of here for the affluent northwestern suburbs. Like Chicago’s reputation itself, there’s going to be a lot of rebuilding to do, and it will take time. 

As for the NHL, the news comes at a bad time as the league was celebrating their return to ESPN and new partnership at Turner Sports after years of obscurity at NBCSN and off to good ratings start on both. The Blackhawks have been one of the league’s biggest ratings draws, and with the team playing poorly on top of this PR disaster, it may cost them ratings points down the road. 

And keep in mind this comes at a time when there is a backlash over regional sports networks, as many cable subscribers are cutting the cord and Sinclair has mismanaged those they purchased from Disney, rebranding them Bally Sports and getting called out by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and NBA commissioner Adam Silver for the way they are run as Bally may be headed for bankruptcy. How many cable subscribers know part of their monthly bill (in the guise of a RSN fee) go to the Blackhawks organization whether they watch or not as the team is a part owner of NBC Sports Chicago? Angry viewers – especially those who don’t watch sports – should hit the roof. 

With that said, sports are the only thing keeping the lights on at linear TV networks – it sure as hell isn’t Young Sheldon or Call Me Kat or the sixteen editions of Law and Order. Sports programming attracts live viewers advertisers crave, such as annoying commercials for BMWs the working-class can’t afford or for the latest Burrito Bonanza at Taco Hell, so it doesn’t matter if The NFL Lakefront Team (TM) appears on national TV in prime windows and get slaughtered every week. 

Yes, we still live in one of the best sports towns in America and yes, there’s occasional brilliance when everything is dark in this city. But the way some of these sports teams and/or leagues are run and how we wind up paying as taxpayers or cable/satellite subscribers when something like what we saw with the Blackhawks on Tuesday, it tests your loyalty. Maybe some declining ratings or revenues for these leeches is the wake-up call they need. 

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