A 430pm 1 train at 59th st Columbus Circle to 34th St Penn Station followed by a quick walk over to Penn St Station and I was on the NJ Transit line to see the New Jersey Devils play San Jose Sharks in another NHL ice hockey match.
I use a lot of public transport travel for games each year that includes buses, trains and ferries and sometimes teams dress these up for their fans to add to the whole fun day out so it was good to see that the Devils had some posters and flags up in one carriage on the train to Jersey.
Arriving at Newark Penn Station, I made a two block walk to the Devil’s home base of the Prudential Centre just after 530pm. Laughing, music and fun could be heard well before I approached the venue and it was good to see a pumping fan fest complete with kids games, DJ belting out rock anthems and food and local craft beer trucks in this zone. However it was the cross fit challenge which was engaging fans the most as hundreds crowded round the main outside area. Participants from cross fit gyms across the local area were pulled together by the Devils to see which team would be crowned the cross fit champion and go on to be showcased later in the night on the ice. This was a really smart idea especially in regards to providing a fan engagement activation based around health awareness.
Customer service is always a deal breaker for me when I visit stadiums. I don’t mind if a staffer doesn’t smile or has no interest in the sport on show but I find it frustrating if staff don’t have all the information they need to help fans out, haven’t been trained properly or if they don’t seem to care about the fan in general. In saying that, the opposite was true of the Prudential Centre and Devils staff. I spoke to a few of the team in Matt and Jack in fan development and ticketing respectively to get a better idea of what they do for the fan experience. It was good to learn about their ‘pay as you go’ scheme where fans can put down a random figure (minimum $2500) and use that as credit for matches but as part of the fans reward package, they gain access to exclusive priority ticketing and other incentives.
As I walked further in I was presented with a free program as well as tonights free promotional item which was a magnetic schedule. Two nice added bonuses from the Devils which go a long way in creating a positive first impression for fans.
I instantly tried to access WiFI however noticed that not only is it not free, there is no public WiFi which is a negative in this day and age and something that fans expect. Next I wandered around the venue and noticed an impressive wall display of hockey jerseys next to an interactive ‘Little Devils’ kids zone which featured video gaming systems and face painting. I tried to enter digital activations that were on offer after being told being a non resident was fine to enter however after the young staffer got through to a screen asking for contact details the system would not allow me or a person near me from Switzerland to participate. While I agree that a sponsor would rather have residents or locals enter these digital activations and that fans would be annoyed if a foreigner won a prize over a full member, however its important to ensure that these activities are inclusive to all fans. It was a bit odd to not allow me or the Swiss guy and who knows how many other non US residents to not participate in the souvenir photo activity as it would have been a good memento to take home (mind you this was a bonus for my girlfriend as it’s one less piece of fan engagement junk to have around our apartment!)
The fans were quite vocal throughout the night which was a sign that they were having a great time. Hear them here
Some of the fan engagement ideas that the Devil’s used included the following:
- Designated driver offer whereby fans who did not drink get a free soft drink
- Free team schedule magnet
- Cross fit zone
- Kids zone with gaming and family activities
- Seat upgrades
- Noise meter reader to make crowd louder
- DJ on the decks spinning tunes
- They had Mr Met in town and so both mascots were a highlight of the night and certainly got the crowd laughing
- Variety of food options including healthy choices
- Court projections
- Dance Cam
- Devils drum where fans play the drums on the big screen
- Zamboni Riders- fans get to ride in the ice truck
The Devil’s and the Prudential Centre venue deliver a valuable and memorable event for fans that included exceptional customer service, fun digital activations as well as plenty of fan engagement ideas that clubs in Australia could benefit from.