There wasn’t any fanfare when Danny Wirtz became the chairman of the Blackhawks. There also wasn’t any surprise.
Wirtz, the team’s CEO since 2020 and the son of Rocky Wirtz, was the obvious choice to take over the top spot in the organization upon his father’s death on July 25. The younger Wirtz took over as chairman of the Wirtz Corporation — the umbrella that covers the team and the family’s beverage and real estate empires — on July 29, and took over the chairmanship of the Blackhawks without even a formal press release.
Going from CEO to chairman won’t change too much for Wirtz, but taking over the entire family business will spread him out a little thinner. He said he’ll lean even harder on Blackhawks president of business operations Jaime Faulkner and general manager Kyle Davidson, both of whom he put into their current roles.
“I think I’ve always had to sort of wear a few hats, depending on our other family businesses,” Wirtz told The Athletic on Tuesday. “I’ll have to play more of a role with the governance of the Wirtz Corporation and our family enterprise. But I’ve always given the reins to Jaime and Kyle to run their pieces. That will continue.”
Wirtz joined the franchise as interim CEO in April of 2020 when his father fired longtime president John McDonough, then became permanent CEO in December of 2020. Wirtz, 46, has become the face and voice of the franchise as Rocky took something of a step back from the public eye and day-to-day operations.
]“I think it’s really important to stay connected to the Blackhawks, making sure it’s the kind of organization that we hope for, making sure it grows and builds the way we want as an important piece to our family business,” Wirtz said. “So I’m not going anywhere. But also, I can go somewhere, when I have to go do something else, and know that it’s in good hands. So as a practical matter, it doesn’t change too much. I’m looking forward to the added responsibility.”
This season, you won’t have to guess who’ll be calling Blackhawks games whenever you turn on the TV or radio as often as in recent years.
On the radio, it’ll be John Wiedeman doing the play-by-play and Troy Murray as the color analyst pretty much every game, just like it was in the past.
“We’ll have them back together,” Faulkner said. “Loud and clear from the fans, put John and Troy back together and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
As for TV, Chris Vosters will be the play-by-play voice and newly hired Darren Pang will be the color analyst for nearly all the games. The Blackhawks feared Pang would have to miss a lot of games for his national duties on TNT, but that won’t be the case. The number of games he’ll miss hasn’t been finalized, but Faulkner said it’ll be small.
When Pang does have to be elsewhere, he’ll be replaced on the TV side mostly by Caley Chelios, and sometimes Murray.
“Caley will be his backup,” Faulkner said. “We might pull Troy on as well. But it’s going to be very minimal compared to what our fans were used to when Pat (Foley) and Eddie (Olczyk) were in the booth.”
On the subject of TV, Faulkner also discussed the ever-changing landscape of regional sports networks. The Blackhawks’ contract with NBC Sports Chicago is up in 2024.
Faulkner said the Blackhawks are doing their homework for when that decision has to be made.
“We are watching it very closely,” Faulkner said. “So we’re very involved in what’s happening in the media landscape everywhere. The sands are shifting right now. We’re fortunate that we can watch a little bit of what’s happening.
“We are doing our own intel, talking with the Amazons of the world and Metas, just to understand, like, how do you value live sports? What do you think of content? Where are you going? So we’re trying to keep our pulse of what’s going on, so that when it’s time for us — and us being collectively, the Bulls, the Blackhawks and the White Sox, because we will stick together going forward — what’s the right decision for these three teams together?”
Faulkner also said the NHL’s future plans could impact the Blackhawks, as well.
“And the other thing is we have to pay attention to what the leagues are doing because each of the leagues are trying to do something different as well,” Faulkner said. “So watching, what is the NBA going to do when their media rights deal is up? Are they going to do a second package and pull more Bulls’ games out? What is Major League Baseball gonna do with direct-to-consumer content? So we’re trying to just keep our eyes open and our ears open to get as much information as possible, so when it’s time for us to make decisions, we’re all armed with the best information.”
While at the NHLPA Player Media Tour on Tuesday, Connor Bedard debuted a “Rocky” patch the Blackhawks will wear this season to remember Rocky Wirtz.
“Saw a picture of Connor wearing it at the NHL media day, it’s pretty cool,” Danny Wirtz said.
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) September 12, 2023
That doesn’t mean the Blackhawks won’t have a corporate sponsor patch on their jerseys in the near future. They just don’t yet.
“We don’t have a jersey patch partner right now,” Faulkner said.
Wirtz chimed in, joking, “I’m sure my dad would be happy to move the patch aside.”
Nothing is imminent, though.
“We’re being very careful,” Faulkner said. “First of all, the market is saturated. Every team, between baseball and NBA renewing patches, there are so many people out there right now trying to get patch dollars. We want to be really thoughtful about who we’re going to partner with and put on our hockey sweater. We’re just talking to a lot of big companies, making sure, like, hey, if we were to do a partnership, does it align? Is it good for your business, is it good for our business beyond what you’re looking for by putting yourself on our jersey? So we’re being really thoughtful and taking our time. We are in no rush to put a jersey patch on our jersey.”
(Photo of Danny Wirtz: Chase Agnello-Dean / NHLI via Getty Images)