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Jeff Vanderbeek & New Jersey Devils Alumni Met with Fans in First Stop of Jersey Tour in Long Branch

New Jersey Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek is interested in the fans' opinion; enough to go to parts of the state and interact with them directly. They've kicked off what has been titled the Jersey Tour in Long Branch this evening. The event was MC'ed by Devils radio announcer Matt Loughlin, featured the mascot, Devils alumni Ken Daneyko, Grant Marshall, and Bruce Driver, food and drink, and - most of all - the opportunity to ask Jeff any question about the team or the Prudential Center in a public forum.

This is the first of such events and the Devils have planned four in total so far to gauge whether there would be interest in such an open forum.  I don't know where the other three events are; but as soon as I get word from the Devils, I will let you know.  Provided it isn't too late to let you know, that is.  The event in Long Branch was held at McCloon's Pier House and there were only 100 slots available for anyone to RSVP, first come, first serve, regardless of whether you were a season ticket holder or just a casual fan.  

According to Jeff Vanderbeek, while the initial emails were sent out 5 days ago, it only took about 1 hour and 50 minutes for the whole event to be filled.   And they clearly showed up on a Tuesday evening for the event, interacting with Jeff and the alumni both before and after in good spirits in addition to asking a variety of questions in an informal environment.

Needless to say, I think the first stop went well from my standpoint.  

Switching tracks a bit, thanks to the New Jersey Devils organization, I was able to get a media credential for this event, so I was able to hear Jeff answer questions from the media separate from the event in addition to the public Q & A session.  I even asked a few of my own.   I believe the Devils were recording the public event, so if there is video from that, it should be up in a few days.  All the same, I'll list what I've heard in both sessions after the jump.

The Media Q&A with Jeff Vanderbeek
  • Jeff emphasized how important these events are; not only to be proactive to promote the team, but also to get out and meet the fans on their own turf, in a somewhat informal setting.   This is far more of a structured approach, targeting certain counties (8, than what has been done in past offseasons as well as emphasizing the "Jersey's Team" theme.
  • Jeff does believe this will increase visibility in conjunction with the Prudential Center, the public access to the arena, the area around it, and that it's necessary since this is the entertainment business.
  • Jeff did admit that there has been a spike in interest in the last week and a half.  He did say the Devils did get above last year's season ticket holder amount two weeks ago by about 4-5%.  That's well before any announcement about a certain left winger. Speaking of:
  • Jeff didn't have much to say about the Kovalchuk situation in general.   He had no comment about the press conference; and based on what he's read from Bill Daly and the PA about how both parties would like to get an arbiter in an expedited manner, he hopes it will be resolved as soon as possible.  He believes that will happen but had nothing further to say.
  • With respect to how he'll answer any questions from the fans about Kovalchuk, he did say that he will be honest and state that there's only so much he could say given that there is an imminent arbitration hearing and there's a lot that's out of the team's control right now.  As far as what Jeff's heard from fans so far, he understands that there has been frustration and they want closure, but he stresses that there are procedures that must be followed and that time will come.
  • I did ask Jeff about whether the recent usage of Zach Parise on the official website in a season ticket ad, as to whether.  Jeff did say that while "he can't see the day a player will ever be promoted above the team," he does think that there are players that are worth promoting and they will be doing that more in the future.  He recognizes that there are some Devils that are fan-favorites not only in New Jersey but around the world; and they'll promote them while "maintaining their commitment to winning."
  • Jeff did comment about development around the arena - that there is indeed some plans. The Marriott hotel may be breaking ground "sometime in the fall;" there are two bars that will be under construction soon on Edison Street (one is the Gotham City, the other was an unnamed sports bar); there is another restaurant (a "beer and burger joint") nearby that will should open before the upcoming season begins.  
  • With respect to the makeup of the tour, he actually directed and was told by his staff that every stop on the tour, including this one, should be about 70% non-season ticket holders and 30% season ticket holders.  He was excited about the initial turnout given how fast all the RSVP slots filled up.

My commentary: I'm not at all surprised that Vanderbeek had little to say about the Kovalchuk situation.  Neither should you, as he could very well be involved in that hearing.  What he may say to the media could potentially hurt the Devils or the union's case.  Ultimately, this was reflected in the public Q&A session later in the evening, save for one admission.

Dave Caldwell of the NY Times has this article up on the meeting as a summary.

The Public Q&A with Jeff Vanderbeek (and the Devils Alumni)

I have fewer notes on this as I think the session was recorded, hopefully to be released by the Devils later on.  The whole session wasn't just Jeff Vanderbeek answering the fans' questions; some questions were directed at the alumni. I don't think that was necessarily a bad thing since veryone who attended was glad that Driver, Daneyko, and Marshall was there and all three were far from boring or being a prop in a background.  

One of the highlights was the players sharing something fans never would have heard, per one of the fan's questions.  A light enough question, but definitely entertaining. I knew that Daneyko had some stories; but I had no idea he would do things like shove a guy into the boards or cross-check an opponent in the crease, get whistled, and then go up to the ref and exclaim "You can't call a penalty for being the strongest guy on the ice!"   I also had no idea that Daneyko would always sing between intermissions regardless of result, per Grant Marshall.    I had even less of no idea that Bruce Driver got his license plate number and a nickname as a result carpooling with Daneyko and Craig Wolanin to practice. Given Wolanin's love of hip-hop (in the mid 80s, mind you), both he and Daneyko got to yell "BRU-HA" enough times to a beat to make that stick as a nickname.  The things you learn from players can be astounding.

Jeff and the alumni along with Matt Loughlin were receptive to all the attendees (I would say it was more than a 100, maybe 150?) hearing their rants, raves, compliments, and questions before and after the event.   I will say Loughlin had the line of the night with suggesting that the state motto should be: "New Jersey - You Just Don't Get It."  Since I know the Devils are reading this let me just say that if you're not willing to put that on a shirt or a hat or something, I will be.   That's too good to pass up.

Moving on to questions Jeff got, they varied from the team to larger issues.   A summary:

  • One person who had fond memories of South Mountain Arena and being able to see the Devils practice there asked if the Devils' practices will be opened.  Jeff actually gave a good reason as to why they haven't: security.  Not necessarily to spy on what the Devils are doing, but since the practice rink is connected to the Rock, they need extra security to ensure people are prevented from getting to places to the Rock (e.g. the locker room, the boiler room, etc.) they shouldn't be.  Jeff did say that they will look into opening up some practices to the public sometime this season.  So you have that to look forward to.
  • Of course, someone asked about the status with Kovalchuk and whether or not Jeff  really thinks he'll play until he's "like 63 years old." (the questioner used this for hyperbole).   Jeff did say he expects Kovalchuk to play until he's 44; but just stated what he told the media - there is an upcoming arbitration hearing and he cannot comment in detail further than that once an arbiter is decided upon, then a decision will be made in 48 hours per rules. 
  • One person asked about whether the Devils website will bring back a feature that let's people get to know the player (the name of the feature escapes me).  Jeff did say that they plan on bringing it back, starting with Jason Arnott.
  • One person asked about whether the Devils will get an All Star Game or a Winter Classic. Jeff did say that the league has interest, especially once the hotel is complete, to use the Prudential Center for an All Star Game. He also said that he will make sure the Devils are involved in any Winter Classic that comes to the tri-state area.
  • The last question of the night focused on how the Devils seemed to be getting the short end of the programming stick with Cablevision.  Namely how the Devils would be on the overflow channel (MSG+2) without HD whilst MSG and MSG+ would have full HD quality.   Jeff interestingly noted that their contract with Cablevision requires equivalent quality of programming with the Islanders and Rangers on some basis.  I didn't quite catch all the details on that; but he said the Devils would be quite interested to complaints like that. Someone asked outloud, "What about Comcast?" but they can only work with Cablevision right now.

The only notable thing that others may pick up on is his expectation of Kovalchuk playing until he's 44.  This shouldn't surprise anyone in my opinion.  After all, it's Jeff's money, of course he's going to expect Kovalchuk to meet the contract.  In any case, that was the only Kovalchuk-related question asked from the fans; so I believe the fans understand that.  Also, Jeff's right about the 48 hours for an arbiter to decide on the rejection: it's right there in Article 11.6.

I'd personally be shocked if the Devils only need to wait on the hotel to get an All Star Game, as there's a long list of teams waiting for one.   As far as the Winter Classic is concerned, I'm sure the Devils can make a case, but it's going to be up to the NHL (and NBC) as far as who is involved.  We can hope at least?   I'm also interested in the Devils interest to complaints about TV programming.  Perhaps they can set something up on the website for such complaints?

Again, I would like to thank Jeff Vanderbeek for coming out to do this whole tour and I wish him the best of luck in future stops  I would like to thank the Devils management and staff at this event for their hospitality and providing me a credential. 

If you were at the event, what did you think of the event? Did I forget something important or got something wrong? Please, let me know.  If you weren't at the event, would you be interested in this kind of an event; and what would you ask Jeff Vanderbeek?  Do you think this will help market the team?   Please leave your thoughts in the comments.