The opportunity for a limited number of fans to see the New Jersey Devils play live went over well with the fan base, as virtually all tickets for the team’s scheduled eight home games in March have been sold, team President Jake Reynolds said.
The Devils, which are allowed to admit approximately 1,800 fans for the games, made the seats available to season-ticket holders last Thursday and then to the general public Friday.
Reynolds said all lower-bowl seats for the month have been purchased, with just a few seats in premium areas (club and suite) remaining.
“Approximately 200 for the eight games combined,” Reynolds said.
The Devils host the New York Islanders at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Reynolds said the arena has been preparing for this moment since last fall — and will staff the Prudential Center as if there is a full crowd. That way, Reynolds said, the arena will be ready if and when Gov. Phil Murphy decides the indoor capacity limit (currently at 10%) can be raised.
“This obviously has been a process that we have been working closely with the governor’s team,” he said. “We’ve been preparing for this moment dating back all the way to October of 2020.
“We were confident we were going to get to this point of being able to welcome fans back — it was just going to be a matter of the scale. So, we’re ecstatic to be where we are now, welcoming 1,800 fans back.
“And we’re also hopeful that this is just step one. We’re hopeful that there is going to be an opportunity for us to continue to scale this and welcome more fans back in as we get into April and later parts of the season.”
For those coming Tuesday, it certainly will be a different experience.
For starters, their arrival time will be predetermined, with half the fans being told to arrive more than 30 minutes before the start — and the other half closer to the 7 p.m. start.
Reynolds said the fans also will notice a touchless entry (scanned tickets), temperature screenings, hundreds of hand sanitizing stations throughout the building and touchless experiences for purchasing food and merchandise.
All of this will be available to fans through the team website and through apps on their phone, Reynolds said.
“One of the things that we did that I think is unique and special is, we created a microsite specifically for kind of a one-stop shop for our fans to have information and access to everything that they need,” he said.
That site includes an interactive way-finding tool to help fans physically navigate the environment.
“The tool will provide them with a different path of travel with the fewest touch points, whether you’re looking for an open concession item or looking for a bathroom,” he said. “It will help you navigate throughout the arena.”
Reynolds said season-ticket holders will not necessarily be in their regular seats. In accordance with social distancing, the arena has created groups of two and four seats — neighborhoods, he called them — in the lower bowl.
And, when the game ends, fans will be instructed to follow a section-by-section exit plan.
The Devils have released a FAQ on the reopening. Click here for it.
Reynolds discussed all this and more with ROI-NJ. Here’s a greater look at the conversation.
ROI-NJ: Talk about offering tickets for sale and the response.
Jake Reynolds: Our first priority was going to our Black and Red season-ticket members and giving them the opportunity to be the first ones back in into the building. We saw an overwhelming response.
I think there was the excitement of being able to get back to a live sporting event, but also confidence in terms of the measures we’ve taken to create a safe and engaging environment. So, we saw an overwhelming response from them. So much that there was only very limited tickets available to the general public. We quickly sold out the general bowl seating for the eight games in March.
ROI: How are the tickets priced?
JR: We offered our season-ticket members their season-ticket member rate, which is a discount off of the normal gate. The tickets that were made available to the general public were at traditional game prices.
ROI-NJ: How have suites been impacted?
JR: Traditionally, our suites hold 12 people, with the additional opportunity to purchase six standing room only seats. Right now, we are adhering to the same social distancing guidelines in these suites, so, you can purchase a suite, you can sit next to individuals within your own suite, but we are limiting the number of tickets for the individuals that can enter in the suite — that ranges anywhere between six and eight individuals, depending on the suite.
ROI: How does that impact the price of suites for those who already had one?
JR: This is something we’ve been working (on) very closely with our corporate partners and premium buyers dating back to the beginning of the pandemic, where we allowed them the opportunity to essentially pause and extend their suite licenses and premium contracts. For this season, we are offering them the opportunity to purchase their suites on an individual-game basis. And then, we will pick their contracts back up on kind of the normal timeline that we have with them.
ROI: You mentioned corporate sponsors: How have your contracts with them been handled?
JR: I think one of the things I’ve been most proud of is the working relationship we have with our partners. And the beginning of this, we took a customized approach with each of them to understand what their business goals were during this time — and then, how can we still help them accomplish that? For each of those partners, we’ve worked out an individualized plan in terms of kind of maximizing the opportunity that they have.
ROI: Part of those plans may been advertising on the seat covers that were visible during TV games. How will that be impacted?
JR: Fans in the building and those watching on TV will still see some of those seat covers. Per NHL guidelines, there’s a barrier between the proximity to the ice and where fans can begin sitting. So, we will still have covers starting at the glass that go up roughly the first eight rows.
And we have really leaned into the digital opportunity that we’ve had with a lot of our partners to be able to bring additional insight and value to them our partnership and helping them based on kind of what their goals were for this time.
ROI: Let’s go to more of the in-game experience: Why did you decide to fully staff the game with a limited audience?
JR: This is something that we have been heavily focused on. We are staffing these games as if it were a full arena for a number of reasons. One, the chance to bring people back to work is an incredible opportunity. It’s also an opportunity for us to continue to refine our processes and protocols that we have in place.
We continue to be hopeful for additional fans being able to come into the building in later parts of the season, starting in April. So, this plan was designed to be scalable, and to be able to ramp up from beyond just this 10% as we continue to grow throughout the season.
ROI: Some of these staffers will handle food and merchandise sales. How will that be different?
JR: Concessions specifically can be purchased via the mobile ordering. Fans will be able to have contactless pickup at the select stands that are open. We have streamlined the menu to some of our fan favorites and we will have single-serve and individually wrapped items. People will be able to go and pick those up, but also be able to scan a QR code with their receipts.
ROI: Last question: You’ve got the Devils on Tuesday, the final Seton Hall men’s basketball game on Wednesday — what are the thoughts on entertainment, concerts and family shows?
JR: As we progress and work closely with the governor’s team to be able to increase capacity, it’s going to open up the doors and possibilities to be able to welcome additional opportunities, whether it’s family shows or concerts.
A lot of concerts’ touring dates got pushed back to the fall. We’re hoping we’ll be able to start seeing some of those in the summertime.
The data that we’re seeing around that is incredibly encouraging. A few weeks ago, Live Nation said 83% of fans were holding on to their concert tickets, knowing that these dates are going to get rescheduled and the opportunities are going to present themselves. We can’t wait.