At least one team in the National Hockey League is looking to get people excited as the New Jersey Devils are taking fan interaction to an unprecedented level. The historic hockey team with a passionate hockey fan base (as demonstrated in a memorable episode of Seinfeld), has set up ‘Mission Control,’ an office at the Devils’ arena run by volunteers to monitor news and work social media sites. The room is adorned in New Jersey Red, and stocked with computers, truly resembling a control room.
The idea was born only a few months ago, as the team looked to engage both younger fans that are more connected, and older fans who grew tired of the team’s poor performance this season. Coincidentally, the surge online occurred in tandem with a surge on the ice, and both have spurred fans once more. Forums begin revolving around questions and polls poised by fans, any news relating to the team or the NHL is linked to the Devils Facebook page and to their Twitter account.
It is not simply sports stories that are being forwarded. Fans talk to one another, and ask customer service questions to the team and organization. One family asked for gluten-free alternatives at the concession stands at the Prudential Centre where the Devils play their home games, and the team acquiesced.
While this season the Devils will not make the playoffs, the team’s initiative to gets fans active and connected is one that should be undertaken by other clubs. The NHL has been given a great opportunity in the coming months to reach new fans, but they must begin must start acting now and into the playoffs to keep people interested in the off season and into the fall.
According to the majority of sports journalists around the country, it is highly unlikely that there will be an NBA season next year, with players salaries running out of control, and the owners having the power, financial means, and leverage to cancel the entire season. Meanwhile, negotiations between owners in the National Football League and the players union have fallen through. It looks as though there will be an abbreviated season, if any, in the fall of 2011.
The NFL is the most popular sport in the United States, setting records this past year with television viewer-ship, in addition to possessing the most popular fantasy sport by far. Meanwhile, the NBA has one of the most aggressive and passionate online fan bases, with a most popular Facebook page and an uncontested ability to post and watch any NBA clip on YouTube. If either or both of these leagues fail to have a full season, the NHL has an opportunity to gain popularity and stage a sports coup.
A league that has over-expanded, and seen fan-bases deplete in the south, while cities in Canada continue to scream for a team, the NHL should adopt the Devils project and involve more fans. The league must act, or at the very least encourage and support teams to engage new groups, with the potential of so many sports enthusiasts looking for something to do or watch come September (Mad Men has also been delayed, so there is even less to watch on the weekends).
The NHL needs to do something to get people to notice them. The Devils are on the right track with a simple project that every team should duplicate. The window is now, but if the NHL doesn’t act soon, it will quickly close, and so goes their best chance to gain popularity.