There is arguably no team in the NHL that has produced a higher quality on ice product over the last 15 years than the New Jersey Devils. The level of play and professionalism in the business of hockey that the team has displayed is arguably second to none not just in hockey for that matter, but in all of team sports.
However in terms of brand identity, the success at the gate and in the consumer marketplace has never been established effectively despite the move from the Meadowlands to a state of the art facility at the Prudential Center. In a crowded marketplace with a sport that has a passionate but limited draw, the Devils brand has been lost. Critics point to senior managemen.s lack of dedication to in season community projects, a lack of significant advertising spending, limited branding and an undefined geographic marketplace as some of the key reasons for the Devils lack of splash, and most of those claims have been valid. The belief that on ice success will be enough to lure casual dollars and discretionary spending has not held water for the team. So can things change for the Devil. Can they match the marketing buzz put forth by the Nets, or the brand growth the Rangers experienc. There have been some strides made in that direction for sure recently. A more effective social media outreach in the preseason, and an expanded media and promotion push have been worthwhile and could bear fruit as the casual fan turns from baseball to winter sports following the World Series and as we near the holidays. However in this day of fan access, the inaccessibility of Devils players for fans and community remains a problem. While Nets players, and the Knicks as well, take part in mandated year round community activities, and the Rangers and even Islanders get their players out for events, the Devils remain silent.
While the Rangers look for comprehensive branding opportunities with grassroots communities using their players, the Devils use a mascot and former players. To the south, the Flyers commitment to the community in South Jersey is probably unparalleled in hockey, and their players are staples in events building brand and good will year round. Even the Islanders have created buzz in their quest for a new arena and other recent projects. So is there enough upside to change philosophy and make a team which has been so successful on the ice even more successful on the business sid. Maybe the tea.s studies have shown that the uptick in attendance and dollars spent is not worth the community commitment from its players, but that is a questionable message to send even to loyal fans.
The only way success can be made off the ice for a team so successful on it is to make the same commitment to business and community year-round that it makes on the ice, and make the investment in the brand and its fans just like it does with its players. The Devils have tried to make some relevant strides in the preseason, (although their continued marketing program still is devoid of player images, a practice put forth for years by management which again hinders an attachment of players to fans), however the commitment to brand needs to be there year-round to be effective, and in these challenged times, the only way to grow is to make that commitment. If not, then it is tough to match on-ice success with business success, and that is a disservice to the community, the fans and even the players. Her.s to continued growth and commitment to the business of hockey off-ice in New Jersey, a market well worth the investment.
Some other good reads…the Houston Chronicle had a good piece on the different issues that the service academies must tackle in athletics and how it works…Business Week had a good list of 25 young entrepreneurs and their businesses…and the New York Times had a good feature on Jets kicker Jay Feely and his use of twitter…