Blackhawks embrace rebuild in commercial series

Chicago is the rebuild capital of the sports world. The Bears, Blackhawks and Cubs are in the process of rebuilding, and the White Sox emerged from it in the last few years. The Bulls are the lone holdout, essentially skipping the rebuild phase by acquiring other teams’ veteran players.

Though their methodology was obvious, the Bears and Cubs have bristled at the word “rebuild,” and for good reason. It’s an indication that they’re probably going to lose a lot of games. The Sox didn’t have a problem with the word, but they certainly didn’t use it to promote the team.

That’s not the case with the Hawks. Not only have they publicly embraced their rebuild, they’re using it in TV commercials. In the first of their new series of spots, with the slogan “Ready to work,” the Hawks come right out and say it:

“They say rebuilds are hard,” the actor says. “And make no mistake, this is a rebuild.”

When I first heard that, I was taken aback. We all know the Hawks are basically restarting the organization, from the front office to the locker room. But to prolong that narrative, rather than, say, focus on the game-day experience at the United Center, seemed counterintuitive.

“This is Chicago,” the actor continues, shrugging a shoulder as if to brush off the meaning of a rebuild. “We love ourselves a good rebuild. They once rebuilt the entire city after a fire so big, they’re still calling it great.”

That’s clever, but while fans might agree that a rebuild is best for the team, I can’t imagine they love it.

“Was it easy? No,” the actor says. “And keep in mind, these are the same people who drink Marlot by choice. So yeah, rebuilds are hard – for other cities.”

That’s an appeal to the toughness of Hawks fans – as well as a nod to an iconic Chicago liquor known for its bitter taste. Get the message?

Though the ad is well produced, I wondered if it was a case of over-sharing. Why hit fans over the head with a hockey stick about this rebuild?

“We are committed to being honest and transparent with our fan base,” Hawks president of business operations Jaime Faulkner said. “The reality is, we are rebuilding both on and off the ice. So we want to be honest about that. But we also want to have fun with it. We’re going to lean into it.

“Fans have confused the rebuild with, we want to lose. So we were hopeful in the marketing campaign that we could be clear that rebuilding in no way means we’re showing up to lose a game. Hopefully, the fans are seeing that when they’re seeing the level of play and the competitiveness of the players.”

The campaign was born out of summertime meetings with season-ticket holders, who predominantly asked about the state of the team. The answer is clear, and Faulkner isn’t concerned that the Hawks are talking too much about it.

“On Tuesday, we had two standing ovations in the middle of the game,” she said. “One of the things that our players lean on our fans for is to help make the United Center a very hard place [for opponents] to play in. Our fans have been delivering on that. So it is still a very fun and electric environment.”

Fans watching from home might have noticed another form of advertising that’s new to Hawks broadcasts. NHL teams are using Digitally Enhanced Dasherboards, which displays graphics on the boards that only viewers of the broadcast can see. They’re visible when the coverage camera position (center-ice view) is in use.

DED allows for the digital replacement of the static ads with dynamic advertising and other graphics, including animations. Seeing movement on the boards during game play can be distracting, but the Hawks are cognizant of that.

“The technology has a lot of capability to animate and almost be an additional screen for us when you’re watching a game,” Faulkner said. “But we do have to be very careful to not distract from live play. So how we implement that going forward will be making sure that we’re using it in the right way.

“We’re going to be really smart about when we animate. They’ll be at whistles. So if we’re going on the power play, the boards might have some animation that says that. But then we’ll go back flat once the puck drops. We want to add to the viewing experience, not take away from it.”

Where viewers will tune in for that experience in a couple of years is in question. The rights agreement among the Hawks, Bulls and Sox with NBC Sports Chicago expires in October 2024. Wherever they end up, Faulkner said the teams will stay together.

“We’re committed to staying with the Bulls and the White Sox, and NBC is a great partner right now,” she said. “We’re just trying to learn and figure out what’s happening on the media landscape so we know what our next step is going to be.”

Remote patrol

NFL regional games airing Sunday in the Chicago market: Bears at Cowboys, noon, Fox-32 (Adam Amin, Daryl Johnston); Titans at Texans, 3:05 p.m., Ch. 2 (Greg Gumbel, Adam Archuleta); 49ers at Rams, 3:25 p.m., Fox-32 (Kevin Burkhardt, Greg Olsen).No. 17 Illinois visits Nebraska at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on ABC. Former Chicago radio voice Dave Pasch and former Bears defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek will call the action.Read More

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