Thursday night should have been a grand night at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The New Jersey Devils, fresh off their run to the finals, would have been ready to get started with their 2012-13 season with some new faces and the veteran leadership of Marty Brodeur between the pipes as an Eastern Conference banner went to the rafters. Instead, Devils leadership was in Atlantic City, announcing the playing of a series of minor league games in Boardwalk Hall. Nice news, but not what New Jersey hockey fans were hoping for at this time of year, as the lockout continues on.
Still, the announcement does send a message of hope and a good brand reminder as to the continued growth of the Devils brand throughout the state. A decade ago, the playing of Devils associated games anywhere but around the Meadowlands would have brought a yawn. Central and South Jersey were Flyers territory as the Devils struggled to find ways to reach a wider fan base. That has all changed with the aggressive and smart stance the team has taken in recent years, finding ways through digital and social media, youth programs and an ever-growing alumni presence to make the brand more valuable in far reaching parts of the area. While a team in Trenton did not work out for the franchise, the parent club has not neglected any part of the state, finding ways to connect with general hockey fans and convert them over through partner activation programs and social media.
Even with the lockout, the team has pressed ahead with a new web program “It’s The Devils Hockey Show,” with a behind the scenes look at all things New Jersey hockey. Seven web producers and a series of writers will come up with fun and offbeat ideas, with Devils followers on social media having a say in the program as well. It will bring yet more added value to the Devils brand once the team returns to the ice and the long-awaited follow-up campaign to 2011-2012 begins.
For now, officials can only plan and prepare for whenever the lockout ends. The Prudential Center learned the hard way about lockouts last fall, as the Nets farewell New Jersey season got off to a rocky start with the NBA lockout. Hopefully Devils fans won’t have to wait that long, but in the meantime the team continues to press ahead and try and beat the drum for fans who want their hockey in any form as the winter approaches.