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For Devils’ arena, draft is a warmup for Super Bowl Crush of fans, international media offer Prudential Center final test before hosting big game’s media day

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The draft is expected to bring some 14,000 people to Newark, according to the NHL.
The draft is expected to bring some 14,000 people to Newark, according to the NHL. - ()

The blocks around Prudential Center were buzzing last spring as the New Jersey Devils made their run to the Stanley Cup Finals. And while the team fell much shorter this year, this weekend's NHL Draft will bring hockey fans and the international media back to downtown Newark in June, giving businesses in the city and region another chance to score big.

The June 30 event stands to bring 10,000 fans to the arena and the city on draft day, which the NHL says typically attracts locals and season-ticket holders. But a weekend-long slate of activities also will draw an estimated 1,500 out-of-town media members, team and league personnel and broadcasting staffers, the league said, not to mention 2,500 draft-eligible prospects and their supporters.

Robert Sommer, president of Rock Entertainment Management, said, “As an event, it's very significant. It's right up there in terms of impact” with other past events like the Stanley Cup Finals, the NCAA men's basketball east regional games in 2011 and Ultimate Fighting Championship matches “because of the huge amount of media that will be covering the event.”

But it's also the ancillary activities and programs that make the draft a warm-up to Jan. 28, when the arena hosts media day for Super Bowl XLVIII. The event is among the most high-profile around the Super Bowl, featuring a media crush and players from both teams, and is the first official public gathering for the week leading up to the game at MetLife Stadium.

“Even though media day is just one day, plugging into the larger Super Bowl weeklong extravaganza is what the draft is like over several days,” Sommer said. “It's not just about what goes on in the building, (but) what's happening outside the building to attract fans … to make it a daylong event or a weekend-long event.”

Officials in Pittsburgh and St. Paul, Minn., the sites of the last two NHL drafts, projected their local economic impact at $9 million and $10 million, respectively.

It wasn't clear last week if tourism leaders in Newark had developed projections for the event, but other indicators were available. Visitors, including personnel from least 12 NHL teams, had booked more than 2,500 room nights in New Jersey, including about 1,000 in the city.

The hotel stays are generated in part by the events around Newark and North Jersey, including the media luncheon for top prospects in Weehawken, a clinic and skating session at the arena, and the league's own fan fest at the arena's Championship Plaza.

The fan fest will have broader economic significance this year, as it's being sponsored by the state's “Stronger than the Storm” campaign, the federally funded ad blitz aimed driving tourism to the Jersey Shore after Hurricane Sandy.

For Tucker Development Corp.'s new Courtyard by Marriott on Broad Street, which shares a block with the Prudential Center, the weekend will elevate what is already a steady source of business from the Devils and other functions. General manager Nicholas Pappagallo expected the draft to provide a boost akin to a Rolling Stones concert or a UFC event, largely because “they without a doubt bring a great traveling crowd with them.”

“We only opened in September, and nobody really knew what the impact was going to be,” Pappagallo said. “Not every event brings the crowd or the amount of the rooms that produce a significant amount of revenue, but when you get into these unique events, they've been very successful at the hotel.”

The 150-room Marriott is hosting groups from the Canadian Hockey League, media outlets and other affiliates, providing “great exposure” for the upcoming season on top of the immediate business, he said. He also expected that draft weekend will have “the same impact, and probably even more, for when the Super Bowl will be here next year for Media Day.”

John Stage, CEO of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, had similar expectations for the popular eatery on Market Street. He said preparation will be essential because “you just expect more action in off times, and of course a good onslaught for both dinner and lunch.” He also expected a step up from the normal energy that fills the restaurant for Devils' home games

“It's always great when you get out-of-towners and show them things that they weren't expecting,” Stage said.

E-mail to: joshb@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @joshburdnj

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