It has been widely covered throughout the news media today that the New Jersey Devils have quickly been sold to a new ownership group. Josh Harris and David Blitzer have purchased the team and the lease to the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey from Jeff Vanderbeek. Some estimates on the purchase price vary, Sports Illustrated/ CNN reported the sale price at $320 million (www.si.com).
Harris is the majority owner of the Philadelphia 76ers NBA team, and I find it so ironic that the savior of the New Jersey Devils owns a team in Philadelphia, given the Devils historic rivalry with the Philadelphia Flyers.
It was also announced today at the press conference that Lou Lamoriello will remain in charge of the hockey operations and player personnel (www.si.com). However, Scott O’Neil will become the new C.E.O. of the Devils, though since he holds that same title with the 76ers, he will split his time between Philadelphia and Newark (www.nhl.com).
In another ironic circumstance, O’Neil formerly worked as Chief Executive of Madison Square Garden Sports (www.ap.com). The daily business operations will be handled by Hugh Weber, who was formerly the President of the New Orleans Hornets NBA franchise.
A Fans’ Perspective
In my perspective, as a Devils fan from the beginning when they moved to the Garden State in 1982, I am very excited for this new era in the history of the team.
First and foremost, I am very excited and relieved that relocation of the team from New Jersey was never a consideration in this deal. When you are a fan, and you hear news of a sale or impending ownership change, the first thought you dread is the potential for your team to be moved elsewhere. The long time Devils fans will remember the whole Nashville relocation scare.
Next, I am happy that these owners have a commitment to revitalizing Newark, which was an initial part of the vision for Vanderbeek when he championed the construction of the Prudential Center, he just lacked the funds to take it further. Newark is among the poorest cities in the country, and it could use a boost from the arena and a new ownership group with deep pockets.
In my view as a fan, I am very optimistic about having an ownership group with a business background, and again, a propensity to spend money to get the best possible product, in this case, a hockey team. The Devils could be a big player in the free agency market next year with these new owners, and their presence in the New York metro area, which is a highly desirable market for players to showcase their talent.
This same ownership group has demonstrated with the 76ers a willingness to be aggressive on the business side of a sports franchise. They actually lowered ticket prices in Philadelphia, especially for mid-week games, or games against out of division or inter-conference opponents. In my perspective as a fan, I would be very enthusiastic about lower ticket prices, after so many years of them staying the same or increasing.
Mr. Harris and Mr. Blitzer spoke today about attracting more corporate sponsors, and also filling the arena schedule with more concerts and events. That addressed a major issue I had with Mr. Vanderbeek, the dates for “non-hockey events” dramatically decreased in the past 12 months, which limits the revenue for the whole operation including the Devils.
We now know, according to reports by Sports Illustrated, and other news organizations, that the events booking company owned by Mr. Vanderbeek did not have the money to pay the advances to book large scale musical acts and other family shows (www.si.com).
The vision that the new owners have, led by Mr. Harris, is refreshing. I have been to the Prudential Center for concerts and it is a great venue for those types of shows as well. The revenue generated for those events will help the hockey operation make improvements to the team and the game experience. That is very exciting considering I think the game experience is already awesome.
In fact, Scott O’Neil quashed any rumors of the 76ers being relocated to New Jersey replacing the departed Nets, by saying that they want the Devils to be the sole sports tenant so that they can have more flexibility with booking other events into the Prudential Center moving forward (www.ap.com).
I never believed the 76ers relocation rumor, I could not see intelligent business men like Mr. Harris and Mr. Blitzer moving an NBA team out of a top 5 market.
The future is bright for the Devils today, certainly brighter than it was a month ago, or even a few weeks ago. The team and the arena are now in the hands of a stable and very capable ownership group.
That ownership group has a vision, to bring a championship level team to the ice and world class game experience for the fans. That is just about the best outcome you could hope for as a fan of the Devils.
Here is the most important part: I believe this group along with Lou Lamoriello can achieve that vision.