Despite a summer of changes, excitement was in the air Friday among Blackhawks fans at the Chicago Hilton and Towers where the convention was being held. In fact, the whole South Loop area of the city seemed to be crawling with hockey fans anxious to relive the moment in Chicago sports for 2010.
Wirtz surveyed preparations being made Friday to welcome the most loyal Blackhawk fans: 10,000 people paying $60 each to hob-knob with the Hawks.
"It's pretty awesome. On a scale of 1 to 10, it's about a 15," one fan told ABC7 Chicago.
Amidst the displays and the invitations to interact, lurks the pressing reality that the Hawks are losing money. It's a function of many factors, according to Wirtz, but he's committed to spending and winning.
"We want to tend to be at the top of the salary cap, and I think what the fans have to realize is that our goal is to win the Stanley Cup every year, and we're going to do our darndest to do that," Wirtz said.
In a sport where the take from the gate makes up the bulk of a team's revenue, the Hawks had the NHL's third cheapest seats three years ago. Now, they're in the 10 most expensive, and more increases are coming. Perhaps, it's a realization that you get what you pay for.
"It's a whole different environment now that the Cup's here," said one unidentified fan.
When Rocky Wirtz took over the team in 2007 upon the death of his father, the Blackhawks played to half-empty arenas. Now, with the addition of top free agent, such as Marian Hossa and Brian Campbell, and long-term multi-million dollar contracts for core stars, such as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, the team is on top but remains in the red economically.
"Every year, with the hard salary cap the National Hockey League has --that's the business model-- we have to find ways to work with it, and we're going to do that," said the owner.
There is only so much of a subsidy the other Wirtz family businesses -- including a five-state liquor distributorship -- can offer to make the Hawks consistent winners.
"Our expectations are that they'll put out a quality team year in and year out. We want more Cups. We win more, we want to be successful, we want the spotlight, we want to attract the best players, we want to keep the best players. This is time to continue investing," said John Rowady, president of Revolution Sports Marketing.
Back at the convention, the enthusiasm was building as the celebration of a Cup winner was about to begin. The chief Blackhawk, Wirtz, was taking pains to try not to put a price tag on everything he sees. When asked if the team would repeat winning the Stanley Cup, Wirtz said:
"We're going to give it the good old college try, I promise you."