Case Detail

Case Summary

The Chicago Blackhawks: Greatest Sports Business Turnaround Ever?

Case Number: 5-112-007, Year Published: 2012

HBS Number: KEL671

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Authors: James B. Shein; Scott Kannry

Key Concepts

Change Management, Competitive Strategy, Corporate Strategy, Decision Making, Family Business, General Management, Leadership, Marketing, Organizational Culture, Public Relations, Reputations


This case explores the turnaround and corporate renewal of the Chicago Blackhawks professional hockey team, which transformed from one of the worst-run organizations in all of professional sports in 2007 to one that won the Stanley Cup (the National Hockey League championship trophy) in 2010.

W. Rockwell "Rocky" Wirtz was faced with making critical decisions shortly after inheriting the team from his father, who was the individual most associated with the organization's decline. The team faced financial trouble and had narrowly avoided missing payroll; the previous customer relations strategy (which included refusing to televise home games or to conduct effective marketing) had resulted in significantly diminished brand value; and management and player personnel were devoid of effective leadership. At its nadir, the team was named "The Worst Franchise in Professional Sports" by ESPN in 2004. After assuming control, Rocky embarked on an ambitious corporate renewal strategy that included the following components:
• Leadership: Install a new management team with clear goals and creative ideas about how to turn around the organization
• Culture: Reward players for accomplishing their goals and establish a performance-based culture
• Financial: Seek new corporate sponsorships and increase ticket prices once the team established a winning record
• Brand and Marketing: Send a clear message that the team was intent upon winning the championship and design a customer-focused marketing strategy

Learning Objectives

After analyzing the case, students should be able to:
• Recommend strategic, financial, and operational changes needed to turn around the organization
• Identify key leadership qualities that enable execution of a turnaround plan

Number of Pages: 21

Extended Case Information

Teaching Areas: Strategy

Teaching Note Available: Yes

Geographic: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Industry: Sports, Spectator Sports, Sports Marketing

Organization Name: Chicago Blackhawks

Organization Department: Ownership/Management

Organization Size: Small

Decision Maker Position: Owner/Chairman

Decision Maker Gender: Male

Year of Case: 2008