But it's another thing entirely for the nation's most respected newspaper to put that kind of story on PAGE ONE in the midst of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That's the kind of day it's going to be for Bill Wirtz, Chicago real estate magnate and owner of the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks. From today's Wall Street Journal on page A1 (subscription required):
Sitting in $80 seats just behind the net at a recent Chicago Blackhawks hockey game, Anthony Molinaro and his girlfriend could see the sweat roll down the goalie's neck and hear the grunts of the skaters as they battled for the puck along the boards.For those of us who have followed the league for some time, the list of charges against Wirtz will be familiar. But what makes it all the more painful is how vibrant and vital the fan base was in Chicago during those days when the Norris Division was the moral equivalent of the old NFC Central. Back then, visits from the Red Wing, Blues, Maple Leafs and North Stars were first class events you didn't want to miss.
The seats were freebies, courtesy of owner Bill Wirtz, as part of a "fan appreciation" program. So was Mr. Molinaro, a 39-year-old community-college employee and lifelong fan, grateful? Not quite.
"He should be giving the seats away," said Mr. Molinaro. "There's no way I'd pay for them."
But today, with the Blackhawks hugging the bottom of the standings for close to a decade now, the team is lucky to consistently draw over 50% of capacity. It's no wonder you need to give away tickets to Blackhawks games, as the United Center is nothing more than an above ground mausoleum.
This YouTube clip from the 1991 All-Star Game will give you a good idea of what the crowd was like at the old Chicago Stadium:
Could it be like that again? For the sake of the NHL in Chicago, one would hope so, but I'm not holding my breath. Neither should the fans in Chicago. Thanks to Fan House reader Howard Feinberg for passing along the link.