Sexual-assault cover-up defines Blackhawks’ old, current and future business — no matter what Rocky Wirtz says

The Hawks’ chairman called the scandal “old business” during his rants Wednesday. He couldn’t have been more wrong.

SHARE Sexual-assault cover-up defines Blackhawks’ old, current and future business — no matter what Rocky Wirtz says

Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz won’t be able to run away from the franchise’s problems.

AP Photos

Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz may consider it “old business,” but the Hawks’ sexual-assault cover-up will very much dictate his present and future business. And Wirtz refusing to talk about the subject won’t make it go away.

Wirtz’s already infamous town-hall meltdown Wednesday has, ironically, made the scandal quite present again. Videos of his irate reactions to easily anticipated questions about how the Hawks have improved their culture since 2010 and last summer have gone viral, reviving the hockey world’s anger at the Hawks over the scandal. For no discernible reason, Wirtz manufactured yet another public-relations disaster.

Even putting Wednesday aside, though, the scandal fallout is the largest in a list

of concerns for a team in shambles on every front.

The Hawks have no permanent coach. They have no permanent general manager — directly as a result of the scandal. And although they might have one soon, Wednesday’s debacle might have lost them a few possible candidates.

They’re a mess on the ice, with just 16 wins through 46 games — their fewest at this point in a season in 16 years — after a brutal 5-0 home loss to the Wild on Wednesday following Wirtz’s tantrum. Their beloved old core is almost gone, they have little game-changing talent in the prospect pipeline and they have no first-round draft pick this July.

Attendance is lagging, too. Wednesday marked the Hawks’ second-smallest crowd in 14 years — the smallest came last November — with an announced total of 16,373 that seemed significantly more than the number of actual fans in seats. The remaining 19 home games probably won’t be much better; roughly 2,000 to 3,000 tickets for each were listed on StubHub as of Thursday, for prices as low as $20.

Based on fans’ mood at the moment — with many longtime supporters fed up with the scandal, the losing, the high ticket prices with little resale value or all three — attendance could be even worse next season. Business president Jaime Faulkner acknowledged that trend Wednesday in one of many comments overshadowed by Wirtz’s explosion.

“Attendance is definitely not where we’d like it, definitely lower than it was before,” Faulkner said. “Thankfully, we’re very lucky we’ll still have the fifth-highest attendance in the league [this season]. But it hasn’t been easy for our season-ticket holders. If we want to create value for them, the first thing we have to do is put a winning product on the ice. Until we do that, it’s going to be hard.”

It’s also going to be hard to put out that winning product. It probably won’t happen soon. And as attendance goes, so too will go community partnerships, business sponsorships, advertising revenue, television viewership and so on. Those areas all have to be worrying the Hawks’ business department right now.

Even on the legal front — where things finally seemed resolved in December — the scandal continues to create new issues for Wirtz. A Chicago-based lawyer said Thursday he’s planning to file three new lawsuits against the Hawks on behalf of three other people allegedly victimized by former Hawks video coach Brad Aldrich and the Hawks’ ensuing cover-up.

One thing the Hawks did manage to maintain Wednesday was their 0% success rate this century in avoiding embarrassment in town-hall meetings. Way back in 2000 and 2001, then-GM Mike Smith was interrogated by fans — and fought back just as unprofessionally — over the Hawks’ penny-pinching approach of that era.

Two decades later, the Hawks brought back the format, eliminated the opportunity for fans to ask live, unscreened questions and still made Smith’s exchanges look tame. After all, there’s a big difference between defending Boris Mironov’s fitness and defending a culture that enabled sexual assault.

Comically, everything Wirtz said has had the exact opposite effect. His “not going to talk about [it]” line? It’s all anyone is talking about. The “old business” description? It hatched new business — and not the good kind.

And his quip about “moving on”? Wirtz must already know — or will quickly learn — that he, his bank account and his team won’t be able to do that for a long, long time.

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