Hugh Weber

A Devils’ Advocate

Devils Arena Entertainment President Hugh Weber discusses one-year anniversary successes of team’s new ownership.

It’s been exactly one year since the new owners of the New Jersey Devils have taken the helm of the National Hockey League team that calls Newark’s Prudential Center its home. Since that time, business is stronger than ever. Season ticket renewals have reached 93 percent, from 85 percent, in an industry in which the high water mark for such sales is 90 percent. In fact, the team sold the third most, full season tickets in the NHL. The goal for the Devils organization is to now sell 10,000 season tickets for the season. It has 1,500 more tickets to go.

Much of the increase can be attributed to Hugh Weber, the president of Devils Arena Entertainment who oversees all aspects of the franchise’s business operations, including the Prudential Center. Weber was hired last August when new owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer purchased the team. Prior to coming to New Jersey, Weber spent seven years as president and alternate governor of the NBA’s Hornets in New Orleans. The team achieved record-setting ticket sales and sponsorship numbers under Weber’s tenure, but more importantly, Weber saved the Hornets from extinction during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, because of the record-setting ticket sales.

His plan of action now is to run full force in Newark. “When you think about New Orleans post Katrina, you think about the role sports played in galvanizing a community at a time when the city was being questioned as to whether it should rebuild. The Hornets and the NFL Saints played an important role in validating that the community needed to be rebuilt … that sports could inspire the people who lived there that great things can happen if they stick together,” he tells New Jersey Business. “Here in New Jersey, and specifically in Newark, I see the Prudential Center as a great platform and opportunity to galvanize the community in a similar way.”

Weber says his mission starts with the Devils organization. “You need a culture of people who understand the higher purpose of why we are here … that this isn’t just a hockey team that puts on 44 games per season (60 if we are lucky and make it to the Stanley Cup finals). We are not a hockey team that owns a building … we are an incredible destination that not only happens to be home to the Devils, but home to a lot of other great events.”

For the business community, Weber pitches the Prudential Center and the Devils as the perfect venue for networking and entertaining. “Where else can you get a client to sit with you, talk and build relationships for three-and-a-half hours?,” he says. “That is why Devils games are great.”

A method for increasing ticket sales, which Weber brought with him from New Orleans, is visiting the homes of season ticket holders, partners and businesses. “We ask a ticket holder to invite some 15 people he or she thinks would be good targets for us. We talk to them about who we are and what we are doing. By the end of the night, we try to get them to buy a season ticket,” he says. Weber may attend these meetings with Devils President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello and former team players.

As for partnering with the Newark community, Weber says he will be working with landowners around the center to try to build an area with a “sense of place where people will want to come and linger. Over the course of the next few years, we will be working with developers and the city to improve the physical space and turn it into an entertainment district that people would want to come and explore,” he says.

Already, Josh Harris gave The Hanini Group, LLC, a $14-million loan to complete a 4,000-square-foot restaurant within the Hotel Indigo. The 90,000-square-foot, 12 story hotel is scheduled to open this month at 810 Broad Street, near the Prudential Center.

With the successes, come the challenges, of which Weber says, “are similar to any business: When you start to see some success, it’s easy to take your foot off the gas and say ‘Look at what we have done.’ We have so much more to do. Even when we feel like we are running on all cylinders, we must maintain some intellectual curiosity to pull things apart and see how we can do them better … to make sure our standards are rising for guests every day.”

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