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Jay Blunk, senior vice president of business operations for the Chicago Blackhawks, and Blackhawks President John McDonough (not pictured) spoke to Kellogg Executive MBA students April 16.

Jay Blunk, senior vice president of business operations for the Chicago Blackhawks

‘Never satisfied’

Chicago Blackhawks executives share with Kellogg students how they are managing the organization’s turnaround and rebuilding fan loyalty

By Amy Trang

4/23/2010 - There’s a video that Chicago Blackhawks executives John McDonough and Jay Blunk show that illustrates the strides the hockey team has made over the past two years.

Phrases like “The greatest sports-business turnaround ever” and “Increased ticket sales by 311 percent in 2008” flash amid the hockey reels. But one phrase in particular reverberates: “Never satisfied.”

The team has garnered much attention recently for its success on the ice, but Blackhawks President McDonough and Blunk, the senior vice president of business operations, were quick to point out that the franchise is still improving its operations and reenergizing its fan base.

“We have a long way to go for people who are going to be loyal to our brand, but we are committed. We are on it,” McDonough said.

McDonough and Blunk spoke to Kellogg Executive MBA students April 16 on the Northwestern University campus, as the latest speakers in the Executive Luncheon Speaker Series.

Both men joined the Blackhawks’ front office three years ago. The team was struggling to emerge from a dark period after being voted “worst sports franchise” by ESPN in 2004. The men, both with decades of experience at one of sports’ most beloved franchises, the Chicago Cubs, said they had to move quickly to regain the Blackhawks’ fan base.

“We didn’t have 18 months to wait to change the culture,” McDonough said. “Our fan base was indifferent, which was the worst place they could be.”

Internally, the front office hired a human resources person and held monthly staff meetings with the entire executive team, enabling employees to ask questions. They also sent out a daily e-newsletter to all employees about the organization’s finance, marketing and logistical data.

Outwardly, the team made very visible changes to bring fans to the United Center, including broadcasting the hockey games on television and radio, recruiting top players and buying major sponsorships with the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs.

Although the team is now playing out for sell-out crowds and reached the 2010 playoffs, McDonough said the organization’s benchmark is to have consistent excellence across the board to build fan loyalty and success for the Blackhawks in the future.

“We’re not taking anything for granted,” McDonough said. “It’s about the prestige of the franchise and the reputation of the franchise going forward.”