Before I took my first steps, the New Jersey Devils called the Garden State their permanent home during their inaugural 1982-83 season. Besides Canada and the Midwest housing some of hockey’s strongest markets, the Northeast puts up a hell of a fight. The New York Rangers and Boston Bruins are two of the Original Six teams with a tremendous following because of players who have worn those sweaters. Or, it could simply be because few teams were established so by default, your parents liked them and you just followed suit.
Hockey fans back in the day were an oddity. Lost in the mix of the NFL, MLB, and NBA, hockey fans had to stick together in almost a fraternity like community because of how unpopular the sport was in the United States. The Philadelphia Flyers also have a tremendous following because of their dominance in the 70’s with back to back cups and even that team on Long Island which escapes me. I’m kidding; the New York Islanders have a very indebted fan base coming on to the scene and with their cup titles as well.
So this “Mickey Mouse” organization has had plenty of success with little to show for it in terms of following and revenue. You would think that a team that’s developed to date two Hall of Fame members (Scott Stevens & Lou Lamoriello), a future HHOFer in Martin Brodeur, and three Stanley Cups with appearances in five Stanley Cup Final rounds, they’d be able to easily fill their shiny new gem, The Prudential Center, in downtown Newark, right?
Not really the case.
The team has lacked in two fundamental areas that could help drive people to games, which in turn creates more revenue for the franchise and gives the Devils that cult following like their cross river rivals and Atlantic Division foes 100 miles south.
Marketing and fan development/relationship.
Now again, don’t be mistaken, I’m a huge Devils fan, always have been, always will be. Despite those two key areas that could be developed, the Devils do have a rather large and passionate following. However, in a state with over 8.8 million residents and how accessible the Prudential Center is, they could be doing a lot better with their following and attendance. Upper management and the organization just does not do anything to appeal to the demographic of Northern NJ and to put people in seats.
With the marketing, it’s simple. Cast the lure, let it get noticed, and keep them coming back for more. What do people love about the Devils? We love that we compete almost annually in the post season, developed some very exciting players that kept current fans in the seats, and we love our goaltender Martin Brodeur who’s been the back bone of our team since drafted in 1994. You don’t see billboards with Marty’s face on it, you don’t see commercials highlighting Marty’s accomplishments, and they don’t repeat. He’s been underpaid for his entire career for what reason; he wants to win.
The Devils just missed the boat on marketing one of the most iconic goaltending names in the sport of hockey. If businesses don’t market, they fail. Are the Devils failing? Well, they did restructure paying back loans amounting to $40 million dollars, the team doesn’t sell out home games unless Philly or the NYR come in to Newark, and they just don’t cater to fan requests. Do I think the team is going under? No. But, you have one of the best goaltenders to ever play the game and who’s been the face of the Devils forever. Now, in the last two years of his resigned contract, Ilya Kovalchuk is next barring any unforeseen move. Let’s just hope that the old dog can learn some new “tricks”.
Besides an absence in a great market, the Devils don’t do nearly as much for their fans as some other teams do. I’ll spare you a lengthy article as best I can but in a market where fan support should be bigger and better, the franchise could improve the relationship and interaction between the team and their fans. Actually, I’ll correct myself. We have the fan base so now the organization just needs to put those fans in the seats for more than playoff games.
Owners and front office management are not why fans attend games while players do not dangle, deek, hit, fight, etc for the aforementioned parties. The fans are here for the players and the players are here for the fans. Every year I read over and over again how most teams around the league allow fans in arenas for open practices and on ice sessions. It drives me up a wall because something so little will cause a ripple effect further then the eye can see. I’ve been through one too many lockouts and this would have been a great way to band aid some of the scars left to fans who’ve endured this escapade one too many times.
Players need to know we’ve been here all along supporting them and so do those in the front office. Tweets from around the NHL have been pouring in about how ecstatic players are seeing packed stands for their first on ice sessions. Practicing in front of jam packed bleachers would send a message to them and the organization that we aren’t going anywhere. The diehard fans will always go see hockey and whatever bark they had about boycotting games because of the recent lockout were probably long gone once a CBA was signed and schedule released.
So hockey is back and we’re dropping the puck on January 19th. The Devils have one of the nicest, if not the nicest arena in the NHL and my message to Jeff Vanderbeek and Lou Lamoriello is this.
You have so many loyal, passionate, and dedicated fans that love their Devils. It’s time to win them over and give back. Fill those seats with fans for games and practices. Give Devils fans something they had once before when they practiced at South Mountain Arena. A few paint and words on the ice is only going to last so long.