I'm debuting a new feature wherein I ask for your comments and opinions on an issue usually involving the Devils or the NHL from time to time. And what better one to start with than with a favorite weapon from the Devils' critics - attendance. Because a team's success isn't on the ice, but what's in the stands (he typed sarcastically).
The current average attendance for the New Jersey Devils at the Rock is hovering just under last season's average. According to the numbers compiled at ESPN, the Devils currently have had an average of 15,234 come to the Rock. That puts the Devils at 24th in the league in terms of average attendance. Last season, the Devils had an average attendance of 15,564 in the first season at the Rock, which was 23rd best average in the league. This was an improvement over the team's last season at the Continental Airlines Arena, where the Devils drew an average of 14,176, the 26th best average that season. While we've seen a marked-improvement in attendance in Newark over the horrifically-located and poorly-accessible Meadowlands Sports Complex; the Devils are still mired in bottom third in the league in terms of average attendance.
Now, truth be told, should the current averages hold up, the Devils will never be in the top 10 in terms of average home attendance. The Rock only holds a maximum of 17,625 for hockey according to the official Prudential Center website. Still, it's frustrating when you have a successful hockey team in a fantastic arena (great atmosphere, sightlines, and a new-ish concourse) that's easily accessible by train and the only time it's getting filled is either when you have substantial amount of support from the opposition showing up (e.g. Montreal, Rangers) or once in a blue moon. I understand that Vanderbeek expects to make money this season, according to this short post by Rich Chere. And I don't think he's making up that attendance does better as the season goes on.
Still, I'd have to think he'd like to make more money and I'm pretty sure, to do that without killing the fanbase there must be more Devils fans coming to Devils games. However, from my anecdotal experience, there are far, far too many people in New Jersey - be they newcomers or people who've lived here for 10 years or even lifelong Jersey residents - who don't even know who the Devils are, not aware of the legendary Stevens or Brodeur, and/or think hockey is just about fighting. On the other hand, there are likely many additional causes and this post at Puck Money really covers the gamut with plenty to back up the charges.
Personally, especially with the economy and the fact that there is so many other entertainment options that the Devils are fighting with given their proximity to NYC and North/Central New Jersey, I lean towards the ticket prices being a factor. Yet, Vanderbeek and his people aren't dumb. For all I know, they've figured out that cutting ticket prices may not yield the increase in attendance to spike it - or rather that if enough are willing to buy tickets at current prices, then there's no real reason to change. According to Rob at Puck Money, he's thinking that thee team needs better marketing marketed enough.
I couldn't agree with him more on that front. Despite the team being tagged as "Jersey's Team," we really don't see much from the Devils? OK, I've noticed some more ads of their holiday packages and such in places I never seen them before, such as in malls. I've seen the "Take the Train to the Game" that features a hockey puck with the Devils logo at pretty much all train stations up through Newark. Still, unless I'm missing the obvious, there needs to be more. Even if the Devils do cut ther ticket prices, they have to let the millions around here know about it and entice them to see the greatest game in the world played by the best team in New Jersey.
And it is from this point, I'd like to know what you'd think. We'd like to have more Devils fans, a world-class fan base in support of a world-class team, and an overall atmosphere that makes The Rock difficult for any team to visit. And I'm certain the organization would like to make more money and have this support as well. The question is how to get there? And, no, the answer is not to let away fans buy up all the seats when their team comes to play. Ideally, we'd like plenty more Devils fans than anyone else.
And so I ask you, what do you think are the best ways to get there, or at least to improve the current status? While I would love the Devils to go off-beat and force Chico Resch on the Star Ledger Munchmobile and spread the love of Devils hockey via eating all over New Jersey in the offseason; I don't know if that's viable - especially on Chico's digestive system. Then again for all I know, maybe that's the best option. Still, what do you think?