Third-generation Wirtz brings Blackhawks into video age
Oh, the irony.
Danny Wirtz, grandson of the late Bill Wirtz, the Blackhawks owner who once forbade games from being aired on TV, has started a video and digital production firm that will produce content for all Wirtz Corp. companies and, eventually, organizations outside of the business.
"The age of communication is getting to the point where video is the most relevant way to digest information," Mr. Wirtz says in an interview about the new division and his role as an heir to one of the largest privately held companies in Chicago, with annual revenue of some $2 billion. "A 30-second video creates an emotional connection and inspires people in a more effective way than any PowerPoint."
Mr. Wirtz, 36, is stepping out of the shadow of his well-known dad, Rocky, who took over the company and the Blackhawks when his father died in 2007. Rocky Wirtz's two daughters and two nephews also work for the company.
The younger Mr. Wirtz is vice president of marketing and sales at the company's beverage group. Part of his role involves coming up with new ideas, which led to the launching of the video division, Banner Collective. It was inspired in part by Patrick Dahl, son of Chicago radio personality Steve Dahl, who is an old friend of Rocky Wirtz. The younger Mr. Dahl worked in television production in Los Angeles before landing at the Blackhawks, where he produced TV spots for the team that gained attention from the front office and won a few local Emmys.
"These weren't sports videos. They tapped into the players' personalities and really connected with fans," Danny Wirtz says.
Mr. Dahl and Dave Knickerbocker, who also worked on the Blackhawks' video team, head the company's creative and business operations, respectively, and report to Mr. Wirtz. They work out of a building in a warehouse district west of the Loop and just minutes from the United Center, where the Blackhawks have been on a record winning streak.
Danny Wirtz considers himself fortunate: "I love the beverage industry."
Mr. Wirtz hopes the production house becomes as relevant as the other family businesses, which include real estate and insurance. Banner has 10 employees, but Mr. Wirtz isn't ready to release budget information. For his part, he'll juggle the production house with his marketing role on the core beverage-distribution side of Wirtz Corp.
"I'm comfortable there. I have lots of freedom to operate in the business. I bring new ideas to my dad. The door's always open," says Mr. Wirtz, who acknowledges his success comes in part from the access he has as a Wirtz.
"The halo of the Blackhawks and my dad provides great advantages. People want to do business. They want to take a meeting. They want to hear about what's happening at Wirtz," he says. "And they want to go to Blackhawks games. That opens a lot of doors."
When he's traveling for the beverage group, Mr. Wirtz finds himself analyzing wine lists and menus. At home, he pairs wines with whatever meal he decides to cook up, acknowledging that his wife, Anne, does all the prep work—"so I can come in and get all the glory of cooking," he says. They live 1.5 miles from the United Center in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood with their two daughters, 4-year-old Rosemary and 1-year-old Juniper. Mr. Wirtz says he feels lucky that he likes the family business. "I suppose if I had different interests" it would be a challenge to find a different way, he says. "But I love the beverage industry—brands and people—and that's where I spend the majority of my time."
He remembers the first time he shared a beer with his father, right after he turned 21.
"We were in the Sonja Henie Room at the United Center," he says, referring to the private area where his dad entertains guests during intermissions at Hawks games. "I had been there before, but not with a beer. Those were tough days for the Blackhawks. They weren't memorable games on the ice, so the Sonja Henie Room was a highlight."