The Blackhawks have been making a lot of news this season. They also have been breaking news.
When the Hawks fired coach Joel Quenneville and traded forward Nick Schmaltz, they were the first with the story, posting the news on their Twitter account. The practice doesn’t sit well with beat reporters who think they’re being cut out so the team can provide its own coverage.
But the Hawks insist there’s nothing sinister behind their methods. They don’t see themselves as competitors for Hawks news, only a conduit. It’s part of a full-service, multimedia operation that might be the best content-producing force among Chicago’s pro teams.
‘‘We understand we are sometimes first, but we understand that we’re not always going to be first,’’ said Adam Kempenaar, the Hawks’ vice president of digital content. ‘‘It’s not so much trying to one-up anyone else or that kind of agenda. It’s more we’ve recognized that that’s what our fans expect from us, being this one-stop shop for all the news and behind-the-scenes content.’’
The effort began after chairman Rocky Wirtz hired John McDonough to be team president in 2007. One of McDonough’s first priorities was to bring the hockey operations and the business operations together. That meant the general manager would sit in the same meeting as the communications director and the marketing director. Information would be shared, trust would be built and the franchise would be better for it.
‘‘Our hockey-operations department gives us the information they know that we need in order to be successful in our positions,’’ vice president of communications Adam Rogowin said. ‘‘They make a trade, the last thing your GM is thinking about is calling the PR guy, but that’s what Stan Bowman does for us.’’
Having that access is at the fulcrum of the Hawks’ multimedia machine, and it extends to the locker room. Part of McDonough’s mantra from the beginning was making the players accessible to the fans. Through Blackhawks TV, there’s a virtual library of videos putting the players in settings fans never would see. And the players are more than willing to participate.
The video that seemed to launch the team’s digital efforts came during the 2008-09 season, with former Hawks Adam Burish and Patrick Sharp playing pranks on their teammates. If videos could go viral at that early stage of the digital revolution, this one did.
‘‘People would find out I work for the Blackhawks, and they’d say, ‘Did you see that Sharp and Burish video?’ ’’ said Kempenaar, who supplied the devious duo with flip-cameras to capture their exploits. ‘‘People were really talking about that because they got to go behind the curtain and get a sense of who these guys are when they’re not on the ice.’’
More recently, Kempenaar has directed a project that documents the Hawks’ preparation for the NHL Draft. Without divulging privileged information, ‘‘On the Clock’’ has put fans in the war room the last two years, which probably would make many teams uneasy.
‘‘Stan Bowman and everyone else involved all signed off on it,’’ Kempenaar said. ‘‘And not only that, they were making suggestions along the way or saying like, ‘Maybe bring a camera into this.’ ’’
Such work never could have been accomplished under the old guard. Kempenaar has been with the Hawks since 2002, when he was a one-man band with the title of web producer. Now he leads a staff of 16, and that doesn’t count the crew at Banner Collective, the video-production group that began as Blackhawks TV and spun off because of its success.
‘‘The amount of resources that we’ve been given from John and from [executive vice president of business operations] Jay Blunk to make sure that we’re serving our fans the right way on the video side and the content side has been really key,’’ Kempenaar said.
‘‘Our approach can never change based on the market we’re in,’’ Rogowin said. ‘‘We’ve always had that aggressive, underdog approach, knowing that we need to be bold, we need to be innovative.’’
Maintaining a connection between fans and the team is important anytime, but perhaps more so during the Hawks’ difficult season. The abundance of content gives fans a reason not to tune them out.
‘‘It really comes back to that access and our belief that if they really get a sense of who these players are, that they’re going to follow them, they’re going to cheer for them,’’ Kempenaar said. ‘‘When we’re going through tough times, they’re going to pull even harder because they feel that connection.’’