Monday, 23 March 2015

Fans Don't Flock Here

The image to the left is Newark, New Jersey outside Rutgers University. I've never been to Newark, but it seems to be similar to other NHL markets in that it has a solid core population and a number of surrounding communities to fill an arena. However, there was a rather unsettling comment made by New Jersey Devils owner Hugh Weber to Jason Nark in POLITICO Magazine that was published on March 19. I'm not sure why he would say what he said, but it doesn't appear that hockey in New Jersey is doing well in terms of attracting new fans.

The article by Mr. Nark actually looks at the deteriorating situation in Newark in terms of the city needing to be revitalized. There's been a "slow trickle" of people leaving the city, and it appears that the city has been unable to recapture some of that lost population. The urban core, where the Prudential Center is located, has been hit hardest in Newark's current situation, and it prompted this view from Mr. Weber, president of the Prudential Center and New Jersey Devils.
The Prudential Center arena is one of the few places that makes Newark feel open for business after sunset. Hours before a recent 7 p.m. hockey game there, customers in Devils hockey jerseys fill up bars around the venue and the popular Ironbound neighborhood nearby. In the Courtyard Marriott, Boston Bruins fans gather in the lobby.

Hugh Weber, the president of the Prudential Center and New Jersey Devils, says he doesn't expect to win new ice hockey fans in Newark. It's not the most diverse sport, he admits.
I'm not sure what diversity that Mr. Weber is looking for, but we're talking about a sport that is primarily played in colder markets still as places like Dallas, Tampa Bay, and Phoenix are working to develop grassroots programs. So the question should be asked of the Devils as to what they are doing to help the game and, ultimately, themselves?

It's no secret that the NHL is still battling with the NBA for legitimacy on the American map, and this trickles down to the kids who want to emulate their football, baseball, and basketball idols. It's easier for a kid to go watch the Rutgers football or basketball teams than it is for them to gain access to a Devils game. This is a case of simple economics that the Devils will always lose, so they need to become more accessible in other ways to try to capture the upcoming generation's attention.

I'm not sure if the Devils are stuck in an "old-fashioned" mindset with Lou Lamiorello at the helm, but I would think they would send a number of players out into the community to generate some buzz. Do they have some sort of street hockey/learn the game initiative like the Coyotes do? If not, why not? Could they not partner with youth centers and community centers to teach the game to those that visit?

I understand that times are tough in Newark, but there are other teams in NHL cities who are facing the same issues that are far more pro-active in their approaches to reaching out to their fans. Detroit, for example, has seen fluctuations in their attendance based on the economic times, but they are always marketing themselves to the fans with a pile of good ideas. It's the same story in Buffalo as well. Both of these teams engage their fans who, in turn, bring friends to the games and to places where games can be watched. They grow the game by reaching out, and I'm not sure if New Jersey does this. If they do, they certainly don't do it well based on Mr. Weber's statement.

Again, I've never been to Newark, but the article by Mr. Nark in POLITICO Magazine sounds optimistic when it comes to finding a way for Newark to revitalize its downtown core area. For the NHL to have a guy who basically says that the sport he's heavily invested in isn't attracting fans in an article about revitalizing the downtown area is a great way to ensure that people won't spend their hard-earned money going to Devils games.

Well done, Mr. Weber.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Peter K. said...

Moving from the Izod center in East Rutherford (Meadowlands) to Newark was the worst thing the Devils could have done.

Newark is a very dangerous city and there additional factors. It's a pain to drive to, it's not train friendly (unless you LIVE on the NJ Path), paying for parking is absurd ($35 a car in the vicinity of the arena) and there is no longer any tailgating present.

Life at the Meadowlands was much better...easier access and all-in-all just a better experience. Newark is going to be the cause of the Devils leaving soon...even the short-lived stay of the Nets were a terrible draw.

Just because they built it, doesn't mean people will come. The same fate is awaiting the Islanders once they head to Brooklyn (mostly due to the difficulty in getting to the Barclay's by car...Islanders fans won't take LIRR, they (including myself) would prefer to drive straight home...say goodbye to true Islander fans and hello to fairweather Brooklynites who after a few short years will be bored and move on...Brooklyn is as much about hockey as Newark...

Newer doesn't always mean better...