BY JOE FAVORITO
ON N.J. SPORTS MARKETING
It is an interesting time of transition in the New York area when it comes to sports. The Jets and Giants are transitioning from their former home to a gleaming new one next door. The Nets are transitioning from IZOD to the Pru on their way to Brooklyn eventually. The seasons are transitioning from hoops to baseball, the Rangers are transitioning from a playoff contender to rebuilding and the Devils are transitioning from being a great hockey organization to a great sports business organization.
The Devils? They of the 10,000 tickets sold for the playoffs last season, they of the Stanley Cup parade in the Meadowlands parking lot? They of the amazing hockey talent and solid citizens who become nameless and faceless from when the puck drops in October until the end of the season in June? Those Devils? Yes. Those Devils.
And here's why.
While the team still lacks a large scale community presence with their players during the season, they have looked to every other way to cultivate existing fans and then reach out to the large base of casual fans who like hockey and have enjoyed being at the Prudential Center for any number of events who they can engage with the experience of an NHL game at easily the best venue for sport in the tri-state area. Their approach, using social media, traditional marketing, the power of the best radio platform (WFAN), a consistent TV spot (MSG2) and a series of fun and smart promotions ("As Seen ON TV Night" was a good one for collecting your best new pocket fisherman), has given the team a very nice bounce at a time where every other winter sports team in the area is hitting the links and packing their bags.
The best evidence was provided this week, when New Jersey not only sold out its first home playoff game, but sold it out on a weeknight which has been the most difficult of all to promote. Team owner Jeff Vanderbeek, the quietest of owners in a market where teams, rightly or wrongly, are known by who writes the checks, has steadily put the trust in the business side of the franchise. The results are a Devils brand that is gaining steam even in a challenged economy, with success starting to mirror the results that have been achieved by Lou Lamoriello and company on the hockey side.
The Devils have become a litmus test for a league that prides itself on digital innovation and integration, and the results have been very solid. The team ran radio, print and cable TV spots in the two days before the playoffs, which yielded just 300 tickets sold. However their extensive social media call to action and special offers ("pay as you play") turned over an additional 2,000 tickets — a very significant total and a clear sign that shows that New Jersey's best branding engagement this year, digital activation, actually pays a dividend.
Now does any of this matter if the team dives in the first round? Actually the answer is yes. It all matters — not just for the bottom line today but for the long term health of the brands of both the NHL in the most densely populated state in the country and for the Devils, who very much need to put butts in seats and engage fans in order to keep their home arena flowing positively.
For years the team has succeeded in anonymity, and many, many casual fans missed out on an amazing experience watching and enjoying top-flight hockey. Now fans have the great combination of seeing top-flight hockey and being entertained and engaged both at the game and away from the event. It sounds like a no brainer, letting the hockey and business sides grow hand-in-glove, especially with such a state-of-the-art facility, but until this year it was a disconnect.
The timing for the business may be more ideal than the timing of the team's on ice success, but one thing is for sure ... the Devils have put a stake in the ground to be New Jersey's team, and if they can capture the casual fan with their continued innovative promotions and outreach, can help continue to turn around not just the brand value of the franchise, but the value they bring to the City of Newark.
Joe Favorito has over 23 years of strategic communications/marketing, business development and public relations expertise in sports, entertainment, brand building, media training, television, athletic administration and business. Visit him at JoeFavorito.com.
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