A good chunk of the posts done on this website have been about the success of the Chicago Blackhawks on local television to begin this season, which have come along with their fantastic 6-0-0 start on the ice. Going into their showdown with the Minnesota Wild on NBC Sports Network this evening, I thought we'd look into it further. It may border on excessive, but just take a look at how well the franchise sitting in the third biggest TV market is doing.
Jan. 19 at LA* - 6.6
Jan. 20 at PHX - 3.3
Jan. 22 vs. STL - 5.4
Jan. 24 at DAL - 5.1
Jan. 26 at CBJ - 4.3
Jan. 27 vs. DET - 6.1
As a reminder, those last four games are four of the five highest-rated games ever for this team on CSN Chicago. The club has rarely been hotter on the ice and off, and this is a team that -- only five years ago, remember -- used to black out its home games to local television viewers. It seems insane to think that a major league sports franchise did that during the past 50 years, much less the past five.
What do we attribute this ratings boost to? The Hawks being on a successful winning streak has to be a part of it. Is there something relating to the Chicago market involved? What about the late start to the season, and could this have happened in say, October?
Well, I decided to ask an expert. Ed Sherman is a 30-year Chicago media vet who can currently be read at the excellent Sherman Report. He agreed to allow me to pick his brain on a few of these topics.
Steve Lepore: Was there any expectation whatsoever that the Blackhawks could come back after not only a lockout, but a disappointing season, and set night after night of ratings records?
Ed Sherman: I don't know about ratings records right out of the game, but I did think hockey would come back strong here. The Bears had a disappointing finish, and everyone is waiting for Derrick Rose to come back to the Bulls. So the Hawks' timing has been great to capitalize on a sports-starved fan base. From a personal standpoint, my 17-year-old, who is a big Hawks fan, literally was counting the minutes for the opener at the LA Kings. So no, I'm not surprised.
SL: Do you think any of this happens with a full season that starts in October? I'm starting to suspect that the short season beginning in January is the cause of these figures.
ES: I think you might be right. Given the numbers across the board for hockey, I think the NHL should want to stage a lockout every year. The ratings probably are more diluted with an October start. There's something about building pent-up demand. December/January probably is a better time to start the season, as opposed to October when the sport is going up against football and the baseball postseason. But you and I know both know there won't be any changes.
SL: Is it sustainable? Can the Blackhawks stay above... let's say the 4.3 they drew for the Blue Jackets game all season?
ES: I would think they can if they remain hot. The 4.3 for Columbus on a Saturday night is amazing. Imagine the numbers when they play important games down the stretch. Provided, of course, if they stay hot.
SL: Where do you think the Hawks fit in the pecking order of Chicago sports? The Bulls remain very good, the Bears and White Sox just missed the playoffs, while the sleeping giant (Cubbies) are still a ways from coming back.
ES: Nothing touches the Bears, and it's still a strong baseball town regardless of how the Sox and Cubs fare. Bulls numbers also will go through the roof when Rose comes back. Yet having said all that, the Hawks definitely are a huge factor, and probably have the most loyal fans in town. And they could be expanding their fan base, judging by the big ratings.
SL: You've been covering Chicago sports for three decades, how strange is it that he Blackhawks are now one of Chi-town's most stable, successful franchises?
ES: It was strange a few years ago when Rocky Wirtz came in and blew up the operation. He and president John McDonough made a ton of right moves to win everyone back. Then the team caps the perfect storm by winning the Stanley Cup. The key, though, is to continue winning. They have two straight first-round losses since winning the Cup. That has the fan base restless. So while the good start is nice, anything short of at least the conference finals will be a big disappointment here.
As you can see, it's sort of a perfect storm of good fortune for the team, one that will probably continue with it throughout this season as long as they don't fall off a cliff at any point. I'm especially curious to see if there's any additional tune-in factor for tonight's game on NBC Sports Network. NBCSN games tend to fall a tick short of what regional sports networks do, but I really think we might see some big numbers out of Chicago tonight. I could be wrong, of course, but I do wonder -- with the regional network audiences likely to be big and some large star-power involved in the game -- if there's another big Wednesday night audience to be had for the league and the network, all led by the once-again high flying Hawks.