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Devils' new executive lineup confident it can become a corporate teammate


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Scott O'Neil, left, and Hugh Weber are making it their business to bring companies to the Prudential Center.
Scott O'Neil, left, and Hugh Weber are making it their business to bring companies to the Prudential Center. - (AARON HOUSTON)

It would be easy to push the hockey, the basketball, the concerts — even the amenities of what is still a state-of-the-art building that is booked more than 200 nights a year.

But when Prudential Center president Hugh Weber and Devils' CEO Scott O'Neil sell sponsorships and luxury suites to what they feel is an untapped New Jersey business community, they first push what they call the story that hasn't been told:

It's a great place to do business.

"You're going to have an incredible value to capture 25 clients for four hours, to sit them in front of a pretty exciting atmosphere, and get great service," Weber said.

It's an environment, he said, "where you're able to walk down the hallway and meet someone who could be a client."

"This isn't about walking into your condo and enjoying that little piece of earth," Weber said. "We want to create a club atmosphere, so that for these people, it's a membership that you have by being a part of this building that gets you special privileges."

Weber and O'Neil came aboard in August, when the team and arena were sold to Josh Harris and David Blitzer.

Filling suites (reportedly, roughly 20 of them were unsold at the time of the sale) and increasing sponsorships became a top priority — one that called for "dramatically" increasing the sales and marketing staffs by "50 or 60" people.

Such an increase in personnel, O'Neil said, enables them to do the job right.

"When you have that kind of reach, that's when you can actually get out and have conversations that we think really matter," he said.

The goal, O'Neil said, is to understand a firm's business objectives, rather than simply putting their name on a sign.

"Those are the kinds of conversations that create partnerships, as opposed to sponsorships," he said.

The Devils would not disclose how many suites had been sold in the less than two months they had before last Friday's home opener.

Industry experts, however, feel they are on the right track long term.

Frank Vuono, co-founder of 16W Marketing, a Rutherford-based sports marketing firm, already has seen a change. He said the team has been smart to engage the trove of businesses beyond the Brick City, something it hasn't been as aggressive in doing in the past.

Prudential Center president Hugh Weber: ‘We want to create a club atmosphere, so that for these people, it’s a membership that you have by being a part of this building that gets you special privileges.’

"You have to expand the concentric circles, so you have to go to the next tier of folks if you want to sell suites and you want corporations involved with your organization," Vuono said. "And sometimes you have to go into new areas."

He added that the Devils "have people in place now who know how to do this, so you'll see that change pretty rapidly."

O'Neil and Weber are certainly not starting from scratch. They have a popular arena that's only six years old, located in the heart of New Jersey's biggest city, and a team that's been one of the most successful franchises in any sport over the past 20 years

That being said, they are still tasked with rejuvenating a Devils' franchise that's been known as much for its financial woes in recent years as it has for its play on the ice.

For O'Neil, righting the ship is a job that will span two cities. He also serves as CEO of the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers, which the new Devils' owners purchased in 2011 in a similarly distressed business deal.

Both organizations are hoping for a financial turnaround under the high-energy, widely respected marketing whiz, who served as president of Madison Square Garden Sports.

O'Neil is confident it will get done.

But one observer said the Devils may be more challenging from a geography standpoint: as always, the North Jersey team is competing for market share with New York franchises.

"In that sense, the ceiling for success there is much more difficult to achieve than it is in Philadelphia," said Kenneth Shropshire, Philadelphia-based sports and business law attorney with Duane Morris LLP.

O'Neil pointed to one major upside with the Devils that the ownership group doesn't have in Philly — owning the arena.

"Here we have 365 nights available to entertain New Jersey, so I think that's the biggest difference," he said.

Shropshire and other experts said the Devils and the Prudential Center could not have ended up in better hands, following years of financial instability.

"If you're not spending the money to make the money, it can be very, very tough," said Irwin Kishner, a New York-based attorney with Herrick, Feinstein LLP, who has worked on several franchise acquisitions. "A fresh infusion with deep pockets and guys that know how to brand and market can go a long away with that arena."

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Joshua Burd

Joshua Burd

Josh Burd covers real estate, economic development and sports and entertainment. Before joining NJBIZ in 2011, he spent four years as a metro reporter in Central Jersey. His email is and he is @JoshBurdNJ on Twitter.



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