Unless your last name is Steinbrenner, it’s not easy being the owner of a New York-area professional sports franchise.
Islanders owner Charles Wang has been unable to find the breakaway success he enjoyed at Computer Associates (now CA), the software company he co-founded. The owners of the Mets have been forced to cuts costs while being sued for profits they allegedly earned from Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.
And now, thanks to a $100 million missed loan payment on September 1st, the New Jersey Devils are going bankrupt, if a report in the New York Post is to believed. Unsurprisingly, the Devils shot back: Don’t believe it.
The Devils brand has been in decline since it hoisted three Stanley Cups during a nine-season span that ended in 2003, and the team hasn’t won a playoff series since 2007. Unlike the two major-sports teams that play across the river at Madison Square Garden, Newark’s Prudential Center (and its previous home in East Rutherford) didn’t sell out many home games even when the Devils were successful. (And unlike the Rangers and Knicks, the Devils aren’t bankrolled by a cable-TV baron who can afford to moonlight as a jazz singer while executing some of the worst decisions in sports history.)
Troubling for Newark residents is how the Devils’ woes can affect a city that’s been working to improve its own image long before the team arrived in 2007. Cory Booker, trying to be the first Newark mayor in 40 years not be to indicted, has gone a long way toward helping the city shed a reputation that could have been summed up as “The New Jersey of New Jersey.”
The Prudential Center has a number of tenants and hosts several events, but the Devils are clearly intended to be the top draw – the entity that operates the facility, Devils Arena Entertainment, is owned by the team (and is also in debt). But Forbes, which predicted the financial conundrum three months ago, feels the facility will need an NBA team to replace the Nets, who will take their talents to Brooklyn after this season.
That replacement will likely not materialize, in part due to the brand strength of the Knicks and soon-to-be Brooklyn Nets. Even if the Devils are able to slapshot their way out of their financial troubles, it’s still a tough road for Mayor Booker, who acknowledged that rebranding his city in order to attract additional business is “an uphill battle.”
Lose the Devils, and it’s as if that hill were now made of ice.