The last time Dave Knickerbocker was at Kemper Lakes Golf Club, he was a valet parking cars for a wedding. Today, he returned as the Chicago Blackhawks senior executive director, marketing and business development and guest speaker at the Lake Zurich Area Chamber of Commerce's Business Connections Breakfast.
"One goal is our philosophy," he said. "We want to be the best hockey team, offer the best hockey experience. We want everything to be first class. We'll sweat every detail to get it that way."
Knickerbocker is proud to be a small part of the organization's success. While humble about his achievements he is confident in his abilities.
He's in charge of all the marketing Blackhawks' marketing efforts. That includes television commercials for the team, their TV show, the team website, player appearances in the suburbs and city and more. "Every single experience you have when you walk into the arena, we're responsible for," Knickerbocker said.
Additionally, due to their success, the Blackhawks Facebook, overseen by the new media department, has rapidly grown to 415,000 fan followers.
The one goal philosophy comes through loud and clear when Knickerbocker describes what was on his mind during the Stanley Cup celebration last year in Chicago. The double-decker busses were full of players winding through the city streets lined with an estimated 2 million people.
"I couldn't get over the fact that the fly over was five minutes late," Knickerbocker said. "The spotlight guy was three seconds late putting the spotlight on the banner. That's all I could think about."
He also addressed the ever elusive puck from the last 2010 Stanley Cup playoff game. "Nobody knows where the puck is," said Knickerbocker. "The NHL can't find it. The videotape can't find it. Some people obsess about it a little more than I do. But you can't take away a Stanley Cup."
To never be satisfied is his self-admitted personality trait.
The creative force behind the various TV commercials, such as the one when Blackhawks players donned speed skating outfits, is Pat Dahl, son of long-time Chicago radio personality Steve Dahl, Knickerbocker said. Others include the commercial where forward Jonathan Toews is in a popsicle eating contest.
Two of the commercials, one for Ikea and the other in which head coach Joel Quenneville is seen touching up the Blackhawks logo on the ice with some paint, garnered Emmy Awards. "There's a fine line," explained Knickerbocker. "You have to make sure they (the players and coaches) have fun. We want to make you see their personalities without them seeming to be an absolute joke."
"The most gratifying thing for us is when we do the commercials, we burn copies on DVDs and the players always send their own commercials to their parents," said Knickerbocker.
About 90% of team members originate from Canada, according to Knickerbocker. To be in hockey in Canada takes an entire family effort. So, the players send the DVDs and their bobblehead likenesses to their families.
Getting the "Golden Jet" Bobby Hull , who played for the Blackhawks for 23 years, back and involved in the team along with other former players was a key element to marketing the team, he said. While Hull was estranged from the organization for 37 years, he's now having the happiest time of his hockey career.
"It's almost like seeing your grandfather up there on the screen when we put his photo up," said Knickerbocker.
When Knickerbocker first joined the Blackhawks in February of 2009, there was a lot of work to be done to build the organization back up. Difficult decisions had to be made to change the organization and the people in key positions, he said.
"That's the way they had always done it, but that wasn't going to be the way moving forward,' Knickerbocker said. "My name is on this."
Before joining the Blackhawks, Knickerbocker worked for the Chicago Cubs for eight years. People told him he was "an idiot" for leaving the Cubs to go to the Blackhawks. It was another former Chicago Cubs employee, John McDonough, now Blackhawks president, along with Jay Blunk, Blackhawks executive vice president of business and another former Cubs employee, coaxed Knickerbocker to join the team.
"He (McDonough) sets the tone of never being satisfied, always getting better" said Knickerbocker. "We have privileged jobs. " After something is accomplished, McDonough's attitude is, "hey, that's great, what's next?"
Knickerbocker recalls his conversation with Jim Hendry, Cubs general manager, when he told him he was leaving the team. He described Hendry as a prankster, who he previously never had a serious conversation with.
"It's probably something I'm not qualified for," Knickerbocker told Hendry.
"Listen, do you think I was qualified for my first job in baseball?" Hendry replied, according to Knickerbocker. "You can do it. I know you can do it."
Now it's confidence that comes through when Knickerbocker speaks about his job.
"You just can't go out and buy exposure," he said. We spend a lot of time planning it. We've put the pedal to the metal and we try to be at everything – street fairs, coming out to the suburbs. We don't have to sell tickets, but it's the right thing to do. It has to be high quality. We won't cut any corners. If you just kind of stay true to what the direction is, you set the tone. If you adhere to your way of doing things, everyone else will follow."
Autographed Patrick Kane jersey
Knickerbocker provided an authographed #88 Patrick Kane jersey to the chamber. The chamber is selling raffle tickets to win the jersey to support its scholarship fund. Tickets are $10 each or six for $50. The winner will drawn on Monday, Dec. 20, at the Lake Zurich Area Chamber of Commerce office.
After his presentation, Knickerbocker let attendees try on his Stanley Cup Championship ring.
Knickerbocker received a one-year membership in the chamber in appreciation of his appearance.