It’s summer 2010, and I’ve taken my seat at the back of a conference room in the bowels of the Hilton Chicago for an upcoming Q&A session with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane as part of the annual Chicago Blackhawks Convention. I sit anxiously hoping to hear some behind-the-scenes stories from the Blackhawks’ first Stanley Cup championship team in 49 years.
Was Kane really trying to score on that overtime, championship winner that somehow snuck in under Michael Leighton’s pad?
What did Captain Toews say to his team before the perfect first period the Blackhawks played in Game 5 of the Final?
As the session drew nearer it became clear there would be no questions of the sort. Teenage girls flooded the room, with alternating 88s and 19s gracing their backs and wide eyes and ear to ear smiles adorning their faces. It was a gathering that would have made Taylor Swift jealous.
Hockey was nothing more than a convenient backdrop. The session quickly became a series of questions about dating, cars and fashion. My eyes rolled over and over, but by the end of the session, they had noticed something else. Here we were in the middle of the summer, in the basement of a hotel, and the Blackhawks had filled a conference room big enough to house a small army with teenage girls.
It was only a few years prior that the organization couldn’t fill the lower bowl of the United Center. It was in that moment of clarity that I decided it was time to embrace the Blackhawks bandwagoners.
Anyone who lives in and around Chicago knows the Blackhawks bandwagon fans are prevalent. Crain’s Chicago Business reported last year females make up 38 percent of the Blackhawks fan base, up from 28 percent in 2008. Just two seasons ago, Chicago Magazine published an article instructing these inquisitive fans exactly how to be a bandwagon Blackhawks fan. During the 2010 Stanley Cup run, the song below became somewhat of a bandwagon rallying cry. And thanks to some grassroots marketing, the song gained some serious airplay on local radio stations.
Sure, they yell “Shoooot!” when there’s no shooting lane. Some of them look around dumbfounded when offsides is called. And most still think Kris Versteeg returning to Chicago was a good thing. But it’s time to fully embrace the bandwagon Blackhawks fans. Here are five reasons why:
1. The Blackhawks have been dominant at the United Center.
Standing room only crowds make the United Center an imposing place for visiting teams to play. Since the 2008-2009 season the Blackhawks are 186-64-28 at the United Center, and the bandwagon fans who pack the seats have a lot to do with that. They might not be the savviest of hockey fans, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t into the game. You don’t have to be a hockey savant to be loud and proud.
2. Blackhawks fans now invade opposing arenas unlike any other fan base.
In March, Patrick Roy was verbal about how imposing the Blackhawks fans were … in the Pepsi Center for an Avalanche home game. The Nashville Predators have a ticket policy in place to keep Blackhawks fans out of their arena, and the St. Louis Blues followed their lead. Pretty much wherever the Blackhawks go on the road, when they score, the roar of the crowd is audible. Not many NHL teams lay claim to those kinds of crowds on the road, and it’s crazy to think the bandwagoners don’t have something to do with that.
3. Huge crowds and crazed fans make Chicago an attractive destination.
When Brad Richards signed with the Blackhawks this summer, he made it clear Chicago is an attractive destination for free agents.
Toews and Kane signed less-than-maximum extensions this summer, which sent a clear message: As long as everyone in Chicago, from teenage girls to aging old-timers, keep idolizing them, staying in Chicago is invaluable. They’re both firmly established Chicago icons with multiple championships to their names, which means sponsorships and endorsements for life. Leaving would mean a decrease in earning potential outside of hockey. That’s why they both signed on for another decade for less money than they could have received elsewhere.
4. The 300 level at the United Center is no longer a desolate dump.
Ten years ago, when you could buy a ticket two minutes before puck drop and have an entire section in the upper deck to yourself, the 300 level of the United Center was nothing more than a sleepy ghost town. With the huge crowds came sleek flat screens around every turn, four bars that allow patrons perfect views of the ice while they drink, and specialty food stands once only reserved for the high rollers in the 100 level.
Sure, the sustained success of the Chicago Bulls has helped, but all these changes wouldn’t have been possible without the Blackhawks becoming the hottest ticket in Chicago.
5. The more the merrier.
Let’s face it. Blackhawks hockey has been one huge party for the last several years. And when you throw a party, the more people you invite, the bigger the party, the more epic it becomes. Sports fans in Chicago have embraced the Blackhawks, and it doesn’t matter if they weren’t there in 2004 cheering for Tyler Arnason and Mark Bell. What matters is they’re here for the big party now. Learn to embrace it, and you’re instantly part of the biggest party in town. And what’s so wrong with that?
Michael Szwaja is a Chicago Blackhawks writer and former sports columnist at the Daily Illini at the University of Illinois. Michael follows the Blackhawks and NHL closely, and has held Blackhawks season tickets for seven years now. Follow him on Twitter @ChiSportsTweetr