This was the first part of a three part series that debuted when the blog was called “The NHL Arena Program”. Here it goes……there will be more as well as new content. The picture above is from 2014. Let’s take a trip back in time.
LOU’S ACKNOWLEDGED MISTAKE: MARKETING
When this era is over, the New Jersey Devils will go down as one of the best franchises in the last 15 years. Their run which started in earnest in the 93-94 season has at the very least put Lou Lamoriello in the pantheon of great GM’s. ESPN.com has ranked him #1 among GM’s numerous times. He does it with a Svengali-like stroke of genius at times. However, a further look shows not just the good but the not so good.
Lamoriello, as we all know, came from Providence College…never played a day in his life, but has an accountability second to none. His promotion of David Conte to head scout in 1993 is considered by many to be his best move in many hockey circles. Combine the two and instant magic resulted. Lamoriello was the one who was largely responsible for the drafting of Martin Brodeur, Bill Guerin, Scott Niedermayer and role players like Sergei Brylin, Jay Pandolfo, and Jimmy Dowd. What Lamoriello is best remembered for is the St. Louis Blues tampering incident which caused the Blues to pay almost $5 million in total compensation and the acquisition of Scott Stevens in exchange for Brendan Shanahan going to St. Louis.
The result of all these moves is three Stanley Cup championships for the Devils franchise. Even as the Devils continue to draft amazingly well (drafting players like Zajac, Parise, and Bergfors), Lamoriello has made his share of mistakes, one he has even open acknowledged and most he hasn’t. The one that he has admitted to is a lack of marketing. The Devils are in the shadow of the New York Rangers whether any Devil fan likes to admit it or not. Also it can be said the Devils moved here for the 82-83 season and it takes time to develop a fanbase. Though this may be true, attendance figures at Continental Airlines Arena have always been average to poor in Lou’s era peaking at 17,321 per game (capacity is 19,040) in 1997-98 and dipping to 14,859 in 2002-2003. They have mostly hovered around 15,000 the last two years. which is a little lower than 80% of full capacity. Worse, the Devils have had a difficult time even selling out home playoff games, something that should never happen for such a “model” franchise.
Not A Model? Why?
Why has this happened? The Devils have been so busy creating a model franchise built on winning year in and year out that they inadvertently forgot the marketing construct. For a team that draws among the lowest third in the league (8th worst last year), they offer very few discount plans and are in the top five in ticket prices to boot. I had a season ticket plan for years from 1990 to 2004. In 1990, my seats for section 216 row 13 seat 3….ran me $30. By 2004, they were almost $60. I can barely remember promotions of any kind other than a few here and there. The Draft Party, which was added in recent years has been up and down with mixed results. Even the Stanley Cup celebrations which were great opportunities to promote the team were just a small celebration in the CAA parking lot. Yes I loved it, but I always felt something more could have been done.
Just like more could have been done to make the CAA more fan friendly and accessible to fans, Lou never did that. He always concentrated on the W’s and L’s more than the visibility of the team. In recent years, Lou has hired more marketing consultants and the Devils are on the flagship radio station of New York City, WFAN. They have also struck a better deal with Fox Sports New York..as the primary hockey club over the New York Islanders. The Newark Arena is scheduled to open by September of 2007. Promotions and discounts have been laid out all for the unveiling of the new arena. All would seem to be looking up. However, two questions remain. Will the last few years of improved marketing make up for the lack of success in that department all these years? Finally, when the honeymoon period ends for the new arena, will Lamoriello be able to adapt and make the changes needed to fill the new arena better than he has with the CAA? Time will tell.