So I'm eager to bid adieu to the BBA/CAA/IZODC as the New Jersey Devils' home, and hello to the Prudential Center, where I'll be attending the team's first game in the new digs next Saturday. In a rare exhibition of fan appreciation and community outreach, the Devils have been holding tours of "The Rock" all weekend. The fans over on NJDevs and Devils Rule are all kinds of impressed and stoked about the place, while blogger Steve Lepore of Battle of New York has additional photo coverage.
Gorgeous interior, awesome amenities, mass-transit accessible ... from all accounts, it's a superb facility. But as usual, every time a Devils fan gets their spirits up, the media must smack them back down. So according to a poll commissioned by the Newark Star-Ledger, New Jersey residents are excited about the new arena -- just not about watching its most famous tenants. And with all due respect to Bobby Gonzalez, I'm not talking about Seton Hall men's basketball ...
In fairness to the Ledger, writer Steve Politi recently penned a glowing review of the new arena, calling it one of the nicest he's seen, and the paper only commissioned the poll by Blum & Weprin Research -- it's not like it knew the answers ahead of time. Still, it must sting the Devils to read results like these so close to the grand opening for hockey:
Of the poll respondents who live in New Jersey towns outside Newark, 57 percent said they would go to the Prudential Center for a game or concert within the next year, but only 31 percent said they would go see hockey. Among Newark residents, the numbers jumped: Sixty-five percent said they'll go to the arena for some event, and 41 percent said they'll go to a hockey game.These results could speak more to the size of the Devils' fan base, and that for hockey in general, in the Garden State than anything else. If that's the case, then the team's decades of absentee marketing and failure to capitalize on its championship success are as much to blame as the NHL's receding public attention. I'd wager that once the glowing reviews from the arena filter through communities in North and Central Jersey, there will be more sports fans willing to sample Devils hockey in Newark. (Keep in mind that the survey was done during the summer, before the arena's bells and whistles were given public attention.) But it'll be up to the franchise to keep them coming back.
There was some very good news in the poll for the arena and the team: Only 14 percent of respondents said crime would keep them from attending events at the Prudential Center. Which is great, because that means people who won't be coming to the arena because of Newark's turbulent past and current reputation are in the minority, like these guys quoted in the Ledger:
''They put this big, fancy thing down there to draw people in, but what about the surrounding area?'' asked Tom Litchfield, 57, whose home in Bloomfield is a 20-minute drive from the arena. ''Sure, the area around the arena will be nice, but you've got to go through hell to get there. Who wants to get shot and held up on their way there?''Buddy, you don't know what you're missing...
For Joe Florio, who lives in Jefferson in northern Morris County, Newark is still the place where his car was vandalized and its battery stolen more than once when he worked in a factory in the Ironbound from 1965 to 1972.
And, in his mind, it hasn't changed much. ''You read about one good thing, and then a few days later you read about three kids being killed in a playground,'' Florio said. ''I wish the city well. I hope everything goes well with the arena. You're just not going to see me down there.''