2019-20 marks the 12th consecutive season in which the Chicago Blackhawks have led the league in average attendance.
Ever since the beginning of the ‘Toews and Kane’ era in Chicago, the Blackhawks have been the king of the attendance game in the National Hockey League. Not only is the United Center routinely packed for every home game, but on occasion, a “Let’s Go Hawks” chant will break out with the team on the road because of how well the fan base travels. The Blackhawks also seem to find themselves in an outdoor game just about every season, which certainly doesn’t hurt their attendance numbers either.
But the hockey scene in Chicago was not always the way that it is now. In both 2005-06 and 2006-07, the Hawks were ranked 29th out of 30 teams in terms of attendance, averaging barely 13,000 fans per game. The on-ice product and the front office each were horrendous, failing to give the city anything at all to be excited about.
To add insult to injury, back in February of 2004, ESPN ranked the Blackhawks as the worst franchise in North American sports. This was before the Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, AND Chicago Cubs ended their insanely long World Series droughts, which shows just how poorly things were going for the Blackhawks at that time.
Fast forward just a couple of years to 2008-09, and the Hawks jumped all the way to first in the league in both total (912,155) and average attendance (22,247). Not only was there a new-found buzz about hockey in the Windy City, but the franchise was functioning as a truly first-class organization. One of the biggest changes was the turnover to Rocky Wirtz as the new owner of the team, which led to a new television deal, more money spent on free agents, and bringing former players like Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita back as ambassadors. The Hawks saw immediate success that season, advancing all the way to the Western Conference Finals with one of the youngest rosters in the NHL. Just one year later, they were Stanley Cup champions for the first time since 1961, ending a 49-year title drought of their own.
So yes, this award certainly doesn’t feel as special after accomplishing it for the 12th consecutive season, but let’s try and remember not to take this era of hockey in Chicago for granted. After all, it was not too long ago where the average turnout at the United Center was nearly half of what it is now for home games. Hopefully, the Madhouse never goes back to looking like it did in the early 2000s, and neither will Chicago Blackhawks hockey.
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