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posted: 6/28/2013 3:45 PM

Hawks franchise has come a long, long way

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Jaws should never cease to drop and minds to boggle over what the Blackhawks have become in this town.

A lot of teams in a lot of leagues go from last to first from one season to the next. Hardly any franchises go from worst to best from one decade to the next.

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The Hawks as a whole are like a zombie resurrected from the dead by witchcraft. Except they were resurrected by Wirtzcraft -- club chairman Rocky Wirtz's, that is.

It was easy to remember Friday, as a couple million fans downtown celebrated the Hawks' second Stanley Cup in four years, that not long ago the team struggled to sell a couple thousand season tickets.

"Fans in Chicago have come to love the team and support us more and more," Hawks general manager Stan Bowman said during the recent playoff run.

Winning is everything in sports except when it isn't. Sometimes how a franchise treats and bonds with fans means something, too.

Needless to say, other teams in town could learn a lot from the Hawks' uncomplicated formula. Which is what? As club president John McDonough reiterated at the rally, the organization never will waver from the one goal of consistent excellence.

The reason for the Hawks' popularity is uncomplicated: They treat respectfully the sport, their employees from laborers to players, and especially their fans.

Oh, and winning Stanley Cups doesn't hurt either.

In a few short years Hawks' ownership and management's way of conducting business has earned the trust of the public and the benefit of the doubt.

Not that the Hawks are immune from mistakes now and then. It's just that they do so much else well that a misstep here or there does little damage to the image.

The real test for any sports franchise is when it raises the cost of tickets. Season-ticket holders instinctively grouse about being priced out of the market, and the media gripe about the gouging of the common sports fan.

The Hawks recently announced an average 16 percent price hike for next season, and this time the news was greeted with a resounding ho-hum. Fans seem willing to write blank checks because win or lose, they know they'll feel appreciated.

Hawks center Michal Handzus was with the team in 2006-07 and reacquired at the trading deadline this season.

"Night and day," he recently noted of then and now. "This wasn't one of the best places to play. It was sad. Then they changed a lot of things marketing, TV, everything."

The cost of tickets to any game of any Chicago sports team in any of the major professional leagues is outrageous.

However, for those who can't resist going to watch their favorites play and can bear the cost, it would be nice for them to get what they pay for.

The Hawks at least provide that much: No worse than a reliably competitive team and nearly as significantly a reliably fan-friendly experience. The club gives back in product what it receives in revenue, and that's about all that can be asked of any business.

The Hawks of this era aren't the 1990s Bulls -- not yet anyway -- but their two titles in four years represent the second-most successful championship run in recent local sports history.

Characterized by Handzus as "sad" to see during the bad old days, the Hawks have evolved into a joy to behold just six years later.

The Blackhawks are what too many other sports teams in town aren't: Worth whatever the price of admission is.

The priceless parades aren't bad either.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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