Jake Reynolds was elevated to the role of team president for the New Jersey Devils last fall.
And, while he has worked in a variety of roles in sports with a variety of teams — including the New York Giants, Philadelphia 76ers and Devils — nothing could have prepared him for the current shutdown of the sport and the state.
Reynolds recently talked with ROI-NJ on a Zoom interview about how the organization has approached life during the COVID-19 crisis.
“For us, it’s about inspiring,” he told ROI-NJ. “How do we inspire hope and how do we help people heal? The community needs that more than ever. To be able to provide that for not just the city of Newark and not just the other businesses in Newark, but the community of Newark and the people of Newark.
“We’re obviously in a big COVID hotspot. To be able to be able to reach out and make a difference and make an impact with the platform that we’re so fortunate to have is amazing. We truly do look at that as an opportunity and an obligation.”
Below is more of the interview, edited and condensed for content and clarity.
ROI-NJ: All aspects of social interaction has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic. The Devils and the Prudential Center — like all other businesses and organizations — are rethinking what life will be like in the future. We know the team and the NHL are going through numerous scenarios of how the future will look. Can you give us a general sense of the discussions?
Jake Reynolds: We know this is going to look different. And we know that there are going to be changes. We’ve been working on a significant number of plans that will kind of reinvent what the family and fan experience looks like when people walk through the doors of the Prudential Center.
For us, it’s changing so rapidly right now. That’s one of the amazing pieces about this: There is new information coming in constantly. So, we’re actually taking the opportunity to take a step back and look at this opportunity to reimagine what that experience looks like, with really two kind of core focuses and goals in mind.
The first one is ensuring the safety of our fans, players and our staff — ensuring that our processes, our protocols and the experience that we’re providing are viewed through a lens of safety being the No. 1 priority.
The second piece is tied to convenience. Safety has to come first, but what does that driveway-to-driveway experience look like for our fan base. And how do we make that as easy and the most pleasant experience as possible when we get there. That’s from parking to security to food, beverage to seating to access.
We know things are going to look differently and they’re going to feel differently. So, how can we make that as convenient of a process and experience as possible while maintaining kind of the highest safety standards that we can?
ROI: One of the benefits of being with Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment is that you not only get to share ideas with other NHL teams, but the other properties HSBE has, including the Sixers in the NBA and Crystal Palace in the Premier League. Talk about that interaction.
JR: There is a definite sports business community. It is a very powerful and a well-connected, smart group that is willing to help each other out. And that has been one of the things we certainly have been leaning on both from a league level as well as other teams in other venues.
We’re looking at different best practices and understanding the different viewpoints that different people have. What are they thinking about? What are we thinking about? And how can we come together collectively to come up with the best solution that, at the end of the day, we all have the same desired outcome. How do we continue to give fans the confidence level, walk back through the building and walk into those doors knowing that they’re going to have these safe and incredible experience?
ROI: The Devils and the Prudential Center also belong to the community of Newark — becoming a key partner in the business community and the community at large. Talk about this community.
JR: We have incredible relationships with the officials in the city of Newark. And we’re fortunate to have a lot of great partners, including Prudential, RWJBarnabas, Mars. Those companies are part of our family.
One of my favorite things about sports is its unique ability to be able to bring people together and unite people and to make a difference. We can still do that. I’m proud to say we’ve been able to provide over 160,000 meals for families in New Jersey. We have an incredible partner in RWJBarnabas and have been able to come link with them on a number of initiatives. We’ve made several contributions as it relates to masks and hand sanitizers and equipment and supplies.
And then we launched a couple of initiatives last week that we’re really excited about. We donated 10,000 tickets to our RWJBarnabas employees. And Josh Harris and David Blitzer, our managing partners, have made some significant monetary contributions.
ROI: We have to ask about the players. How have they been involved?
JR: One of the things I love about our players is that they want to lean in, they want to help and they want to do things to impact the community and make a difference. They’ve been amazing about volunteering. And asking how they can help. They’ve also been incredible just internally with our staff: How they engage with everybody.
I’ve been hosting a staff meeting every week with a Zoom conference call. Each week, I’ve brought on a different player and we’ve taken 30 minutes and we’ve given our staff just an opportunity to engage, ask them questions, see how quarantine has been for them. The willingness and excitement that you get from our players to actually engage in something like that is something you don’t see anywhere else. It’s unique and special and we’re really fortunate that we have the type of players that have that willingness and desire to do that.