They are the only team in major professional sports to now “officially” call New Jersey home, so welcome back New Jersey Devils. With the NHL lockout now settled, their ownership situation clarified and a fun team that mixes youth and veteran leadership (hoping that Ilya Kovalchuck returns from Russia Tuesday) the Devils brand should not miss much of beat when the season begins in a very short while.
The past few years has seen the club continue to build and expand their fan engagement platforms, moving their youth and alumni outreach from just northern New Jersey to central and southern parts of the state. Their top minor league affiliate has and will continue to play several games this year in Atlantic City, and if successful, could keep their AHL team there for good, creating a very interesting New Jersey Turnpike pipeline for the Devils brand that would extend a bit into what many would have considered Philadelphia Flyers territory.
While last January was a much more crowded sports landscape, the moving of the Nets to Brooklyn and the lack of the Jets and Giants in the NFL playoffs creates a bigger window of media opportunity for the NHL, and the Devils should be able to take advantage of that. They also have the ability to re-engage and remind fans of their exciting run to the Stanley Cup Finals last year, and the raising of a banner of any kind should provide another salve on the wounds of any fan that was slighted by the now settled lockout. Does the loss of a popular star like Zack Parise hurt a bit? Sure, but that is the cost of doing business in the transient world of professional sports these days. Will some people be soured by the lockout at first? Maybe, but unfortunately fans have come to expect work stoppages in the big deal world of professional sports these days, like they expect injuries and higher ticket prices from time to time. It is a cost of doing business.
The bottom line is that the NHL is back at a critical time when the casual fan thinks winter sports and would now start to really engage. The die-hard fan is also salivating for his and her NHL, and the Devils, because of all their fan interraction properties, are well suited to hopefully pick up right where they left off. Will there be somewhat of a hangover of bad feelings? Maybe but it will be quickly replaced with a break neck schedule and a race to the Stanley Cup playoffs that should be fun and very exciting for area hockey fans. The Devils have spent a great amount of quiet time figuring out ways to continue to engage their fans when the game comes back, not just at the Prudential Center but in the digital space, and although many brand partners will have to re-jig their activation because they couldn’t plan long term with the uncertainty of when the season would start, there should be more than a few fan programs to help get consumers of all ages thinking and enjoying hockey across the state once the puck drops.
Bottom line is that the Devils are now for the first time the only pro sport in town, and the curtain should rise now on what will be a fun and exciting 2013 of continued growth for New Jersey’s team. Let’s get it started.