Blackhawks president Rocky Wirtz may call it “old business,” but the Hawks’ sexual assault cover-up will largely dictate his current and future business. And Wirtz refusing to talk about it won’t make it go away.
The already infamous collapse of the Wirtz town hall on Wednesday has, ironically, brought the scandal back to the fore. Videos of his angry reactions to anticipated questions about how the Hawks have improved their culture since 2010 and last summer have gone viral, reviving the hockey world’s anger at the Hawks over the scandal. For no apparent reason, Wirtz manufactured another public relations disaster.
Yet even putting Wednesday aside, the fallout from the scandal is the biggest on a list.
of concerns for a team in ruins on all fronts.
The Hawks have no permanent coach. They do not have a permanent general manager, directly as a result of the scandal. And while they might have one soon, Wednesday’s debacle could have cost them some potential candidates.
They are a mess on the ice, with just 16 wins from 46 games, the fewest at this point in a season in 16 years, after a brutal 5-0 home loss to the Wild on Wednesday after Wirtz’s tantrum. . Their old beloved core is almost gone, they have little game-changing talent in the prospect pipeline and they don’t have a first-round draft pick this July.
Attendance is also lagging behind. Wednesday marked the Hawks’ second-smallest crowd in 14 years, the smallest coming last November, with an advertised total of 16,373 that seemed significantly more than the number of actual fans in the seats. The remaining 19 home games probably won’t be much better; roughly 2,000 to 3,000 tickets for each were listed on StubHub as of Thursday, at prices as low as $20.
Depending on the mood of the fans right now, with many fans fed up with scandal, losses, high ticket prices with little resale value, or all three, attendance could be even worse next season. Corporate Chairman Jaime Faulkner acknowledged that trend Wednesday in one of many comments overshadowed by Wirtz’s outburst.
“Attendance is definitely not where we’d like it to be, definitely lower than it was before,” Faulkner said. “Fortunately, we are very lucky to continue to have the fifth highest attendance in the league. [this season]. But it has not been easy for our subscribers. If we want to create value for them, the first thing we have to do is put a winning product on ice. Until we do that, it’s going to be difficult.”
It’s also going to be hard to pull off that winning product. It probably won’t happen soon. And as attendance goes up, so will community partnerships, commercial sponsorships, ad revenue, TV viewership, etc. All of those areas have to be worrying the Hawks’ business department right now.
Even on the legal front, where things finally seemed to be resolved in December, the scandal continues to create new problems for Wirtz. A Chicago-based attorney said Thursday that he plans to file three new lawsuits against the Hawks on behalf of three other people allegedly victims of former Hawks video coach Brad Aldrich and the subsequent Hawks cover-up.
One thing the Hawks managed to maintain on Wednesday was their 0% success rate this century to avoid embarrassment at town hall meetings. Back in 2000 and 2001, then-general manager Mike Smith was questioned by fans, and defended himself just as unprofessionally, about the Hawks’ tight-fisted approach at the time.
Two decades later, the Hawks brought back the format, eliminated the opportunity for fans to ask questions live and unfiltered and still made Smith’s trades look tame. After all, there is a big difference between defending the physical state of Boris Mironov and defending a culture that allowed sexual assault.
Comically, everything Wirtz said has had the exact opposite effect. His “I won’t talk about [it]”Line? That’s all everyone’s talking about. The description of ‘old business’? Incubated new business, and not the good kind.”
And his joke about “moving on”? Wirtz must already know, or will learn quickly, that he, his bank account and his team won’t be able to do that for a long, long time.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism