10 OM Decisions: Rebuilding the Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks                                                       Win Stanley Cup

In 2004, “ESPN named the Blackhawks as the worst franchise in all of professional sports” (English).  So how did the Chicago Blackhawks go from one of the worst teams in the NHL to one of the best? While reading several articles, the answer became apparent to me: they made alterations in their operations management (OM). It suddenly became clear how easily operations management can be linked back to almost any topic. I became in engrossed in finding out exactly which OM decisions were made that resulted in this significant change.

In 2007, owner of the Blackhawks, Bill Wirtz, passed away leaving his son, Rocky Wirtz, in charge of this franchise. Rocky wanted to correct his father’s mistakes and was dedicated to make this change happen; “He wanted to get Chicago back on the Blackhawks’ side.” (English). First, he made job position changes by signing John McDonough (president) and Stan Bowman (Vice President). He began to build a new team of individuals all devoted to a resurgence of the Blackhawks. From there, changing the coaching and players came next.

Ultimately, he wanted to “re-brand” the Blackhawks experience for the fans who had lost faith in the franchise. To make this possible, he renovated the United Center; he added more entertainment outside of the arena so no matter where you were sitting, you would be having the same level of enjoyment. By partnering with the White Sox and WGN, he was able to bring back televised home games. Fans were getting excited about the team again. By adopting his method of “long term thinking”, he was able to create the change this franchise needed.

Why is this related to Operations Management? By looking at the 10 OM decisions one can pin point how Wirtz was able make this change happen.

The Strategic Decisions:

  1. Design of goods and services
  2. Managing quality
  3. Process and capacity design
  4. Location strategy
  5. Layout strategy
  6. Human resources and job design
  7. Supply-chain management
  8. Inventory management
  9. Scheduling
  10. Maintenance

These strategic decisions reflect the alterations made in the Blackhawks. Designing services is seen through the signing in new players and changing the coaching, while wanting to create the best experience for their fans is an example of managing quality. By adding services and a new design to the United Center, Wirtz was catering to the desires of their customers. His consideration of costs, logistics, technology, and “flow of materials, people, and information” is an example of their location and layout strategy. He demonstrated human resources and job design decisions by employing motivated individuals dedicated to his mission. These are just a few of the multiple operations management decisions that were implemented while rebuilding the Blackhawks.

I believe this is an excellent example of how operations management can be a great tool to improve a struggling organization. The definition of operations management is “the set of activities that create value in the form of goods and services by transforming inputs into outputs” (Heizer & Render). Wirtz was able to create value in the Blackhawks by changing the players, coaching, and the building. By altering these inputs, the output that resulted was this new Blackhawks team that is better than ever before. This turnaround of the Blackhawks has brought back to the fans the sense of pride and devotion to hockey.  Now it is almost impossible to walk down a street in Chicago without seeing a piece of Blackhawks merchandise. It is safe to say that Rocky Wirtz accomplished what he set out to do.

What do you think about employing these operation management decisions to “rebuild” a franchise? Can you think of any other organizations/companies that similarly had to change their business approach?



Heizer, Jay, and Barry Render. Principles of Operations Management. Upper Saddle River. 2013. Print.




10 thoughts on “10 OM Decisions: Rebuilding the Chicago Blackhawks

  1. This is an awesome example of Operations Management coming into play in the real world. My best friend is a huge Hawks fan and I’ve begun to pay a little more attention to them in the last few years. I never knew that they faced so many struggles in the early 2000’s before reaching success in more recent times. Rocky Wirtz has obviously done a great job building the franchise and getting things back to where they need to be, clearly using strategic management techniques to do so. Televising home games was huge in getting the fans the fall in love with hockey again. In addition, by making improvements to the United Center and hiring new coaches and players, fans were able to get excited about something new which sparked their interest in the Blackhawks once again. Since Rocky Wirtz took over as owner of the Hawks, they have had tons of success and a lot of that is because of smart and efficient management and leadership.

  2. What Rocky Wirtz completed in a short amount of time is a great example of applying OM Strategic Decisions, even if the team is not in any way involved in manufacturing. Even before taking over for his father, he probably had ideas about how to fix the problem with the Blackhawks and return to them to their glory days, which makes him a great leader. He focused on the entire aspect of fans and their game day experience, so he was able to create not only a successful franchise, but also a great profit generator. It also helped that he was there to witness what worked and what did not work when his father was in charge. He was able to avoid the same mistakes his father made, which put him ahead of the game once he took over. All of these strategic decisions could be used to fix any industry, or team, that is in trouble.

  3. Having been a Blackhawks fan since the beginning, I can definitely attest to the struggle the team once faced in the early 2000s. I remember going to games with barely anyone in the stands, and now it’s almost impossible to get good seats. It’s amazing to see how things have changed over the last few years, thanks in part to Rocky Wirtz’s management changes. The changes he made to the organization have started to be adopted by other teams because of their effectiveness. Sometimes, all it takes is one project manager to create a new, innovative way to go about things in order to spark change within an industry. Wirtz, the Blackhawks, and the NHL are a great example of this.

  4. Even though I am not a hockey fan (I’m from the south!), I really enjoyed how you were able to so eloquently relate “re-branding” and rebuilding a team to the concept of operational management. Even though I had never really connected sports to this topic, it actually makes perfect sense. Rocky Wirtz must be doing an exceptional job because the only thing I would hear about when I first moved to Chicago is how great the Blackhawks are! By applying operational management theory to his team, Wirtz was able to make being a Blackhawks fan synonymous with being a Chicagoan. While I cannot think of another sports organization that has had to rebuild its operations, I can think of an example of impeccable team that has great operational management qualities: the San Antonio Spurs!

  5. I remember getting pumped for their away games because they actually showed them on TV, and also the small article that detailed the trade for Patrick Sharp from the Philadelphia Flyers. The Hawks definitely turned it around on all fronts. Rocky and Dale Tallon both played a huge in role in that. I also think the NHL as a whole has strengthened their operations. The winter classic (design of goods and services) is an example of what they have done to improve. Other teams should follow the Blackhawks lead; however, every market presents its own set of challenges.

  6. As a huge Blackhawks fan this article was extremely interesting to read. I really like how you took a current topic and talked about the ways a team was able to turn it completely around. I often will feel like operations is an extremely undervalued part of a business. Of the three financial firms I have worked at, the front-office people such as traders and portfolio managers receive the most attention; however, it is truly the back-office people who as they say, “keep the ship afloat.” In a business there are so many parts which keep it running smoothly and it is critical to realize the that every single person who works and your company is as valuable as the next.

  7. The Blackhawks are a great example of how changing the operations of a company can put you back on the right track. Seeing what the Hawks went through in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s was tough as a Chicago sports fan and it was almost impossible to support them due to blackouts and a stubborn owner. They have become the model franchise for all teams in every professional sports league. Another example of this would be the Chicago Cubs. Even though they are still early in the process they have taken the approach to start from scratch and hopefully become annual playoff contenders.

  8. I first want to say this is such an awesome article, I would’ve never thought about incorporating my favorite hockey team into operations management! I can completely understand where you are going with this though, once you broke down the strategic decisions an operations manager is in charge of, it’s clear to see that everyone makes these decisions even coaches of sports teams.

    In my opinion Rocky Wirtz has completely and successfully re-branded the Blackhawks when it comes to products, marketing, PR, increasing his fan base and awareness. Everyone now knows of the Blackhawks, not only because they won the Stanley Cup, but because everywhere you go in Chicago you will see some type of advertising or promoting for them. This has even gone global. I remember when tickets were extremely cheap and now it costs an arm and a leg to get them.

    I really enjoyed your post and it has definitely helped me to see that operations management techniques can be implemented in everything.

  9. You actually beat me to posting an article about the Hawks. Well done on breaking down all of the decisions that Rocky had to make to bring the whole organization to where they are today. As a hockey player myself, I would like to argue that a great hockey team starts with the players on the ice but in the NHL today, the only way to get the right players on the ice is by starting at the top. We definitely have one of the best back offices in the league and that is why the Hawks organization has been able to be so successful on and off the ice.

  10. Awesome article. It goes to show how big of an impact the internal personnel can have on a sports team. The players and coaching staff aren’t the only ones that have an impact on the team’s bottom line. The back office is so important to a team’s success and it is easy to identify which teams have poor ones. As I have been a huge Bulls fan for many years, I did notice all of the upgrades in the United Center and have been really impressed! Definitely attracts more people to the games.

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