Devil of a Time
With the acrimonious departure of the New Jersey Nets for neighboring Brooklyn, and with the NFL’s Jets and Giants calling New Jersey home in fact but not in spirit, the New Jersey Devils are now the state’s only professional sports franchise that actually is proud to be from where they’re from. And the team certainly wants you to know it. “Jersey’s Team” banners greet you as you step out of Newark Penn Station or pull off the interstate, and the Devils’ marketing campaign in 2012-13 was all about making sure that everyone knew that this was the Garden State’s team.
The Prudential Center, or “The Rock”, opened in 2007 and seats 17,625 for hockey. It’s also home to Seton Hall University basketball, and (temporarily) the New York Liberty WNBA team while Madison Square Garden’s ongoing renovations are finished.
The Rock reminds me somewhat of a medieval castle surrounding a peasant town. That is not intended as an insult – the Prudential Center is an impossibly tall, mighty looking building as out of place in the surrounding area of burned-out tenements and dilapidated thrift shops as an actual castle would be. Newark, as you may have heard, is not the nicest city in America. But the Prudential Center is a glorious building inside and out, gritty and urban compared with the old Continental Arena’s parking lot and swamp wasteland, and is a fitting home of Jersey’s Team.
What is FANFARE?
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
- Food & Beverage
- Return on Investment
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Food & Beverage
The Devils' ongoing commitment to their home state extends to the food selection available at games. The popular "Taste of Newark" and "Beers of Newark" stands highlight local restaurants and microbreweries, and there is a wide selection of other food available as well, at reasonable prices. If you have club seats, there are popular lounge areas behind those seating areas on the main concourse, though admission is restricted to those with club tickets. Any stadium that goes above and beyond the standard arena fare gets points in my book, and any one that highlights local businesses at a reasonable price deserves full marks in this category.
Like all single-tenant buildings, the Devils have had an opportunity to truly make the Rock their own, and it shows. All seats are red and black and the Devils logo is everywhere. The scoreclock is an excellent setup with multiple HD boards, and they're used together to great effect at many points in the game (i.e., the multiple scoreboards work together as one screen). The atmosphere is also helped by the old-school steepness of the arena tiers - compared with most modern arenas, the Rock has very steeply-pitched seating areas so you really feel like you're looking down on the action from on high. The impressive height of the building, coupled with needing to fit on a city block accounts for some of this, but it's terrific to see regardless of the reason.
The red brick exterior architecture also fits in with red brick tenements in downtown Newark, which was once known for its brickmaking.
The area immediately surrounding the arena is better now than it was some 20-30 years ago, but Newark became synonymous with "urban blight" during the race riots in 1967, and things are still pretty rough. The police maintain a strong presence on gameday protecting the cars of suburbanites and guarding the short walk from Newark Penn Station for PATH commuters, so your gameday experience should be fine. The Brick City Bar & Grill and the Dinosaur BBQ occupy historic buildings right nearby and are highly recommended for a pre- or post-game meal, but apart from a few other hardy outposts, downtown Newark around the Rock is not particularly pleasant.
Like fans throughout the Northeast, Devils fans are real hockey fans with a deep-seated knowledge of the game. The atmosphere at the Rock is electric when the team is doing well, and the local rivalries with the other New York-area teams are palpable even when they aren't playing (The "Rangers Suck" chant is never far from being heard at any Devils game). Devils games don't always sell out - they draw better at the Rock than at their old arena, but there are still usually empty seats unless it's a local rivalry game. The Devils fans that come are excellent - it's just a pity there aren't more of them.
The Prudential Center is easily reached by car, with two interstates and the NJ turnpike all nearby. Parking in the area is ample. If you're on public transit, the PATH train can get you to the game from the World Trade Center stop in downtown Manhattan in 22 minutes. Amtrak, NJ Transit and Newark Light Rail can also get you there.
As for access within the arena itself - for some reason, they built the team store on ground level, with no access from the seating area! If you want to go shopping, the only way to get to the store is to leave the ticketed area after being checked by security, and then re-clear security with your ticket stub again once you've finished your shopping. It's almost an unforgiveable oversight.
Return on Investment
Tickets are reasonable compared with other New York area teams, and are usually available unless the Devils are playing the Rangers, Islanders or Flyers. Stubhub usually has good tickets for lower than face value as well.
The Devils are a classy organization committed to old-time hockey - they are famously one of the few teams in the NHL never to have worn a third jersey if you don't count their occasionally wearing 1980's throwbacks - and the Prudential Center fits well into that. The on-ice workers wear stylish Devils jumpsuits while cleaning the ice during TV timeouts, which fits the blue-collar Jersey ethic perfectly.
The arena is a palace, with wide, sweeping concourses with city views, steep seats looking straight down to ice level, excellent unique food, and lily-white banners celebrating the team's history. In our entertainment center-saturated age, one common flaw of many NHL buildings is ignoring local flavor and team history. The Devils have both, in spades. Even the Boss has a permanent home at Devils games - Jersey's most famous son, Bruce Springsteen, has his music played at each home game. It's a nice touch and it truly cements that this team belongs to Jersey and to Newark, just as the Prudential Center belongs only to the Devils.
Inexpensive by New York standards, tickets are easy to get, easy access on transit, a lovely new building with a great atmosphere. If you're a neutral fan with time to only see one game while in the New York area, the Devils experience is by far the most "normal" of the three, and the building is the nicest.