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Blackhawks’ Success Brings New Fans

When Danny Miller watches the Blackhawks kick off game one of the Western Conference Finals on Sunday against the Anaheim Ducks, he will be watching on a TV that is decorated in Blackhawks memorabilia.172064669

“I have a Hawks ball cap that doesn’t quite fit me, two pucks in cases, autographed by Ray Emery and Viktor Stahlberg, a Brian Bickell Rockford IceHogs bobble head that all stay on top of the TV,” said Miller, a time share salesman from Burbank.

“I recently added a 2013 commemorative mug to that. I know most of that is from the current regime, or at least during the last five years, but that’s how it is right now.”

Miller will be throwing a Blackhawks playoff party in his garage for Sunday’s game but he won’t be leaving his memorabilia behind. Though he says he isn’t superstitious, Miller will move all the memorabilia to the garage TV.

Miller has been a Blackhawks fan since 1984 when, at the age of 8, his dad took him to a Blackhawks game for his birthday. He can’t help but notice all the new fans who have started following the team since they won the Stanley Cup in 2010.

One of those newer fans is Allan Bowen, a bus driver from Aurora, who has lived in Illinois his whole life but did not even hear about the team until 2009, right before they won the Stanley Cup.

“Naturally, since they were in the playoffs I started paying attention more to them,” Bowen said.

Bowen is just one representative of a much larger trend.

According to ESPN.com’s NHL attendance report, during the 2006-2007 season, when the team didn’t even make the playoffs, the Blackhawks ranked 29th out of 30 teams in attendance drawing an average of 12,727 fans per game. This season the team drew the most fans in the NHL, averaging 21,769 per game.

Fans jumping off the bandwagon when their team falls on hard times is a natural part of sports but hockey seems especially susceptible to the phenomenon.

“People who dress up in jerseys, go out to bars to get drunk and hope for a fight to happen on the ice is most of the general population,” said Sanderson said Allen R. Sanderson, an economics professor at University of Chicago.

But for the Blackhawks, the stars aligned and they were able to find success and draw all those fans back to the United Center.

People in Chicago “starve for success, and the [2010] Blackhawks is sort of a good story,” Sanderson said.

Sanderson said the Blackhawks organization had it’s fair share of breaks getting themselves into the limelight, including the fact that Chicago’s other teams weren’t doing well, so the Hawks didn’t have to fight for publicity.

Another break was when Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were drafted in 2006 and 2007, respectively. Coinciding with those drafts, the Blackhawks underwent a big management change when owner Bill Wirtz died and his son Rocky became the principal owner.

Bill Wirtz, unaffectionately known as “Dollar Bill” because he had a reputation for cost cutting, even pulled Blackhawks home games off the air because he felt it was unfair to season ticket holders to televise the games. With fans unable to watch the team, which wasn’t winning anyway, the team faded from public view. When Rocky Wirtz took over, he immediately put the Hawks back on the air.

While Miller believes the newer fans that have been showing up over the past five years are here to stay, others like Thomas “TJ” Tetlow, disagree.

Tetlow, who has been a fan since he was 9, said the increase of new fans doesn’t bother him much, but he said they are not loyal.

“They’ll all fade away,” Tetlow said. “A low percentage, I believe will stick around; it’ll be the ones who actually understand hockey and the Hawks — not just Kane, Toews and Crawford.”

Miller though sees an opportunity for the team’s recent success to make a lasting impact, especially on younger kids who are growing up watching the team.

“I think there is no doubt that there are bandwagon fans that would fade away, but the hope is that some of the younger fans would have the excitement of seeing the Hawks be successful as they have been ingrained in them for life,” Miller said.

Miller won’t be discriminating when it comes to Sunday’s game and said his guests will be a mix of new and longtime fans.

No matter when they started rooting for the team, they will all be pulling for the Blackhawks to bring the team’s sixth Stanley Cup to Chicago.