Jake Reynolds was with 15 colleagues on April 9, 2019, watching the National Hockey League Draft Lottery in anticipation of their team, the New Jersey Devils, securing the No. 3 overall pick as projected. The organization has struggled in recent years, visiting the playoffs just once since the 2012-2013 season as attendance, sales and fan morale dipped.
But this was set to be a fresh start – a chance for a top prospect to come in, draw excitement and ultimately begin to reshape the franchise. Little did Reynolds and his team members know just how big that night would be.
“We were sitting at Redd’s Biergarten across from the Prudential Center and the anticipation is building up. They get to No. 3, flip the card, and it’s not us,” Reynolds recalls. “All of a sudden, a flood of emotion, anxiety and tension just starts filling my body. I couldn’t think straight. Then, the No. 2 card flips over, and you realize we just got the No. 1 pick. We went bonkers.”
At the time, Reynolds was Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment’s Chief Revenue Officer, focusing on both the Devils and the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers – HBSE’s two marquee properties. On September 19, however, the 35-year-old was promoted to President of the Devils. The timing couldn’t be better for Reynolds, who says he and the organization had been preparing for a moment like this on which to capitalize.
“We were celebrating because we knew that was one of those moments we’ve been waiting for. We were 100-point ready. That’s a type of moment that completely changes the trajectory of this entire business,” he says.
“One hundred-point ready” is an internal phrase used at HBSE that signifies preparation, from the front office to hockey operations. Reynolds says that despite the struggles on the ice the past few seasons, the organization was working behind the scenes to ensure that when a moment came as it did on April 9, they would be prepared.
Receiving the No. 1 overall pick and ultimately drafting Jack Hughes, however, wasn’t the only offseason highlight for New Jersey’s hockey team. Roughly 15 hours after selecting the 18-year-old Hughes, it was reported that the Devils traded for P.K. Subban, one of the NHL’s stars.
“I’m on my drive home from the draft, and I get a call from Scott O’Neill (HBSE CEO) and Hugh Weber (Reynolds’ predecessor, who was elevated to a leadership role within the organization) and they say, ‘Hey, buckle up, we’re about to trade for P.K. Subban.’ These are the moments we’ve been preparing for. To be able to have those and to be in a position to capitalize on them is something we’re incredibly excited about. We grew our sales staff after the lottery from a team of about 60 to a team of 105 in anticipation of the excitement and demand. As a result, we renewed over 90% of our season ticket members this year, and we’re top five in NHL in terms of new full season tickets sold. For a team, quite frankly, that has missed the playoffs six out of the last seven years, we wanted to make sure that when lightning struck, we were ready for it.” Reynolds says.
In a league that lags behind other major professional sports like the National Basketball Association and the National Football League, in terms of viewership, coverage, engagement and other metrics – even the face of the league, Sidney Crosby, does not have a social media presence – the Devils hope that Subban will not only be a difference maker on the ice, but an enormous help for them away from competition.
He has the second most Instagram followers out of any NHL player – 959,000, only behind superstar Alex Ovechkin’s 1.4 million – and more than three times the amount of his new team. Reynolds eyes a massive opportunity for Subban to propel the Devils through his personal account.
“We’re incredibly fortunate that we have a bonafide superstar in P.K. Subban, who is very active on social. He’s incredible in terms of being able to give fans an opportunity to get to know him, to give them an insight into who he is, and quite frankly, fall in love with him…” Jake Reynolds says.
“We want him to have his own voice. It’s important for him to stay true and authentic to who he is as an individual. But the nice thing is, when someone like that has over one million social media followers, he can have an impact to the Devils’ brand in terms of reaching a new audience that we may not be reaching currently. So when he’s posting videos working out and he’s head-to-toe in Devils gear, or he’s on the ice and in his jersey, that’s impactful and that’s meaningful to our brand because he has a reach that can touch a number of different demographics that may not be in our core focus.”
Reynolds’ strategy, of course, goes well beyond one player and an Instagram account. Two core focuses of the organization are winning local fans over from a young age while simultaneously growing internationally. The Devils’ Learn to Play program focuses on children ages four through nine to get them on skates and ignite an interest in hockey from a young age. The organization is also invested in Newark, where they play, and are involved in various local charities.
The new president says that the team has “global ambitions” to grow the Devils’ brand in key markets abroad. They played one game in Sweden and another in Switzerland last year, and had thirteen “European Games of the Night” last season – the most out of any team – including the inaugural telecast launched last year.
“For us, given how diverse our roster is, it’s about how can we share the stories of our players not just on our platforms but internationally, too. We’ve talked to the NHL and have thrown our hat in the ring in terms of our desire to continue to play overseas and help grow the game.”
And even though he is focused around boosting the brand and driving revenue, Reynolds’ primary goal is that of any Devils’ fan – to win a championship and hoist a banner in the Prudential Center. While he wouldn’t commit on a season prediction, he did acknowledge that a Stanley Cup in Newark is the goal in the near-distant future.
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