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Can new owners make Devils a hot ticket?

Aug 15, 2013, 4:02 PM EDT

Devils fans Getty Images

The best way for a sports team to sell tickets is to win. That’s common knowledge. Fans want to support a winner. They want to celebrate championships, as if they won them too.

Which is why the New Jersey Devils have been such a puzzling franchise to follow from a business perspective. On the ice, they’ve been one of the most successful teams in the NHL for the past two decades. Off the ice, not so much.

“A Lack of Charisma Hurts Devils at Gate,” reads a New York Times headline from 1999.

“Empty Feeling for the Devils at Home,” reads one from 2003.

“The First-Place Devils Are Struggling at the Gate,” is from 2006.

Even their move to a brand new arena, the Prudential Center in Newark, in 2007 didn’t make them a hot ticket. At least, not compared to their Manhattan rivals, the New York Rangers.

Among the list of reasons/excuses presented:

—- The team is good, but boring to watch.
—- Newark is dangerous.
—- The club’s marketing is poor.
—- The tickets are too expensive.

Fast forward to the present and enter new owners Joshua Harris and David Blitzer, along with new CEO Scott O’Neil to run the club’s business operations. Former CEO Lou Lamoriello will remain in charge of hockey operations.

“This team has stood for excellence and we want to continue the excellence, so we don’t want to fiddle in what Lou and his staff have done incredibly well for their entire careers,” Blitzer said today. “I think the New Jersey Devils are the envy of 99 percent of the NHL from the standpoint of their performance on the ice. We don’t really want to change that.”

But they do, clearly, want to change the way the business is run.

Lowering ticket prices would seem to be a possibility, particularly for mid-week games against non-rival teams. When Harris bought the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers in 2011, the club announced dramatic reductions in ticket prices.

The fan experience could be an area targeted for improvement, too.

“When you have an arena and a team, you have more flexibility in terms of the fan experience than you do as a tenant,” Harris said. “Here we’ll have more control.”

SI.com’s Stu Hackel wonders something else about the new owners:

Will they want the Devils to become a more exciting product on the ice? Acquiring [Ilya] Kovalchuk and developing [Zach] Parise were rather groundbreaking moves for this franchise, which has rarely boasted elite offensive talent. Now those two players are gone and that could necessitate a renewed emphasis on defense, unless ownership suggests a change in direction.

So while Devils fans are rightly happy that the new deep-pocketed ownership group should mean fewer depressing stories about the team’s financial struggles, the business story will still be one to watch (if you’re one to watch those sort of things.)

Related: Prospective Devils owner may see turnaround opportunity in New Jersey

  1. mp4philly - Aug 15, 2013 at 5:08 PM

    If their approach with the sixers is an indication, the answer is no.

  2. credible316 - Aug 15, 2013 at 5:15 PM

    How about Ilya Kovalchuk suitcase night!

    • bullwinkle88 - Aug 15, 2013 at 5:21 PM

      LOL!!!

  3. bullwinkle88 - Aug 15, 2013 at 5:23 PM

    The real reason isn’t listed in the article.

    New Jersey people don’t like hockey. Period. Sure, they’ll come to see a winning team…
    as long as it doesn’t win too often, which would be boring to them. But a good team?

    No.

    They could care less about the sport, which is why that franchise should move to Quebec.

    • stakex - Aug 15, 2013 at 5:53 PM

      That’s not true at all. I grew up in and around new Jersey (and I still live just over the border in PA), and hockey is very popular in most parts of NJ. Its not a popularity issue. Id also point out that the Flyers/Rangers play in the same part of the country and never have trouble with attendance, no matter how bad the team is.

    • jeremyroenickdanceparty - Aug 15, 2013 at 7:04 PM

      WRONG

    • nj666 - Aug 16, 2013 at 1:08 PM

      yeah because NJ has enough hockey fans to support 3 teams

    • dmgkm - Aug 19, 2013 at 1:04 AM

      the last word gave your silly post away: “Quebec”. typical frenchman, “no no no. this is why…”

  4. stakex - Aug 15, 2013 at 6:15 PM

    The problem is very simple… New Jersey Devils fans are just lame. Its really that easy.

    I go to all the Rangers/Devils games at the Prudential Center every year, and there is a real enthusiasm problem among the Devils fans. I’ve never seem a crowd so boring when their team scores, even in the playoffs. I mean its louder in the building when the Rangers score, and at most Rangers fans generally make up 25-30% of the crowd for those games. Its the same for any other Devils home games I’ve been to…. just a really “meh” crowd. Those are the fans that actually drag themselves to a game, its even worse among a lot of their other fans. Perhaps years of boring hockey for the Devils have taken their toll?

    The arena being in a really bad place probably doesn’t help either. For those that have never been, Newark really is a scary place… even with the literal army of cops they throw on the streets for every game.

    • 950003cups - Aug 15, 2013 at 6:36 PM

      You’re twisting facts.

      A) Devils fans expect their team to win with the team we had assembled. When the team, like any sport, is an underdog, the fans cheer louder. MSG isn’t as loud as you’re making it during the season. The “goal song” has a mock crowd noise that plays through the speakers. It’s part of the song. When the Devils re-hired Jacques Lemaire to pull the team from the basement of the NHL, and the team went on a 22-2-2 streak, that building was loud as its ever been until the 2012 playoffs, which the building was as loud as it could possibly be, and without the help of a PA system.

      B) Newark is a bad city, but not as bad as the arenas in Detroit, Chicago, LA, Dallas, Philadelphia, and yes, so is 8th Ave by the Lincoln Tunnel, which is where MSG is located. Newark is slowly improving development, and there has been absolutely no problems with robberies at all. More people get robbed near MSG in a week, than a whole year at the Prudential Center.

      • billyhauntswizards - Aug 15, 2013 at 9:18 PM

        your fact about 8th avenue being a dangerous place is just so laughably incorrect I could cry. Midtown is a very safe place, especially around MSG.

      • biffnasty - Aug 15, 2013 at 11:39 PM

        You’re funny. So the rock isn’t as loud as the Garden because the Goal Song of the Rangers has artificial “crowd noise?”. Please. The reason is because the rock rarely has mostly devils fans there. Living in NJ I have been there on numerous occasions, and it is a pretty sweet place to watch a hockey game, but the fan base is just not there. It is usually 50-50 when the Rangers visit and 40-60 when filthy comes to town

      • 950003cups - Aug 16, 2013 at 12:00 AM

        8th avenue is safe?????? Yeah, if your a pimp or drug dealer. Midtown isn’t safe at night. People get robbed and stabbed in the East Village at night, and that’s a very “safe” place.

        Can’t understand you types. You don’t even know the area.

      • illbringdabeers - Aug 16, 2013 at 10:42 AM

        I’d rather walk around Chicago, Philly, Dallas, and Time Square before Newark every time

      • nj666 - Aug 16, 2013 at 1:12 PM

        ok ill bring have fun walking around “safe” philly, you also sound like a giant sheltered wimp if you’re scared to go to the prudential center.

  5. multiplemiggs - Aug 15, 2013 at 6:33 PM

    Your a moron are you for real?? ^ I guess the 8, 000 suits with their faces buried in wall street journals and smartphones who take up the entire lower bowl at the Garden make for better, more exciting hockey fans!

    • 950003cups - Aug 15, 2013 at 6:37 PM

      LOL

    • hockeyflow33 - Aug 15, 2013 at 6:57 PM

      Nothing makes me happier than a guy who can’t spell his insult properly

    • cerealrapist - Aug 16, 2013 at 12:35 AM

      This comment is perfect.

  6. multiplemiggs - Aug 15, 2013 at 6:33 PM

    Now, any comments from somebody who is NON-BIASED?

  7. billyhauntswizards - Aug 15, 2013 at 9:16 PM

    I honestly don’t know why the Devils don’t have consistently good attendance. They do pretty well on average (minus last season and 2011 of course) but can’t get consistent numbers. You know the fans are there, and the tickets to NJD games aren’t mostly prohibitively expensive (like Rangers, Flyers, and Leafs tickets). Is NJ just cursed? Lol cause I don’t see the issue…

    • tdrusher225 - Aug 16, 2013 at 9:28 AM

      Because the team isn’t very fun to watch. Plus they’ve probably already seen the best of their team playing that style in the 1990s and early 2000s when they won 3 Cups. I don’t blame them either.

  8. moarjam - Aug 16, 2013 at 9:31 AM

    A big part of the problem is that half the fans in NJ are rangers or flyers fans

  9. jerseydevi1 - Aug 16, 2013 at 10:27 AM

    I can actually answer this one based on personal experience. I grew up in NJ and was turned on to hockey in 1980 with the Miracle On Ice team. At that time, there was no NJ team, and that was only 33 years ago. (Wow, really that long?). Anyway, you had decades of Rangers and Flyers at that point, plus an Islaners team on a tear, so if you were watching hockey, it was either the Flyers which had just finished thier 70’s Broad Street Bullies run, the Islanders who were on a run or your fathers’ Rangers. The dynamic was South Jersey was Flyers for the most part, Yankees fans rooted for the Rangers, rooted for the Giants, Islander fans rooted for the Mets, rooted for the Jets.

    Then, the Devils moved in in 1982. Overloaded fan base in the area with good teams and family histories to boot. The Devils had to start from scratch to build a fan base. I know I started rooting for the Flyers in ’80 since my cousins were from Philly so that worked until the Devils moved to NJ. Realistically the Devils are only on their second generation of fans and still building their own base while dealing with a solid base on the other 3 “local” teams. If I still lived in the area, I would only have recently been bringing my kids to The Rock to pass on my love of Devils hockey.

    That’s just my experience and perspective. I don’t think as much of it depends on Newark or some of the other issues as some have stated, although I will say that I wish we had the easy train access at Brendan Byrne that there is now. Would have made it easier for my younger non-drivers-license-having self to get to the games.

    • ndrick731 - Aug 19, 2013 at 12:59 PM

      You are the first person that actually got it right. Your only mistake is the belief that it is going to change, South Jersey will always be Flyers country and North Jersey will remain Rangers. Devils will never make much inroads into those fan bases.Their fan base will only be central Jersey fans with no previous alliance.

  10. nj666 - Aug 16, 2013 at 1:17 PM

    Anyone notice its only butthurt flyers and ranger fans making up their own “facts” about the devils. You can tell because they pride their team solely on attendance because they know they wont win anything. the flyers haven’t won anything since the carter administration… the rangers overspend year after year and where does that get them…?

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