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New Jersey Gets Top Billing During Tentpole NHL Event

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Editor’s Note: We’re going to be dark on Monday. It’s President’s Day. See you back here on Tuesday morning. Enjoy the long weekend.

New Jersey Gets Top Billing During Tentpole NHL Event

The 2026 FIFA World Cup Final was recently awarded to New York-New Jersey. That is despite the game taking place at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. 

It is standard fare for sports properties hosting marquee events in the tri-state area –and the media companies broadcasting them– to tout their proximity to New York City. Heck, many of the teams headquartered and playing on JohnWallStreet’s side of the river do (see: New York Jets, New York Giants, New York Red Bulls, NJ/NY Gotham FC).

So, this weekend’s NHL Stadium Series, clearly branded and marketed as a New Jersey event, runs counter to the norm. That isn’t an accident. The National Hockey League has long wanted to play an outdoor game at MetLife Stadium, and its partners at the state level insisted on a local focus if it were to support the effort. 

“We worked with the Governor’s Office, MetLife Stadium, and the NJSEA in order to get this game here,” Steve Mayer (senior EVP, chief content officer, NHL) said. “And to be very open, their contribution –not only in dollars and cents– but what they could bring to the table in terms of marketing, promotion, and visibility, [help to push] these games over the top.”

The league also saw an opportunity to lean into one of the markets that makes its composition unique.

“We have a New Jersey team. No other [big four] league has one,” Mayer reminded.


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Customized Homepage. The Auburn mobile app has a one-of-a-kind homepage that displays a personalized news feed based on the user’s preferences, as well as Auburn’s most important fan engagement opportunities.

Rights owners will often refer to sports properties held or located in New Jersey as ‘New York’.

“From a marketing standpoint, you generally want to go as broad and wide as possible,” Neil Glat (co-president, North America, SPORTFIVE) said, and the thinking is ‘New York’ represents the entire tri-state area.

The NHL is taking a different direction, at least on a creative level, and treating this weekend’s event as an ode to the Garden State.

“We’re trying to make it feel as Jersey as we can,” Mayer said.

The NHL strives to give each of its 32 franchises the chance to host an outdoor game. The Devils have never done so prior, in part, because MetLife Stadium –the only outdoor venue in New Jersey– is not available for the Winter Classic on Jan. 1.

“We’ve had NFL teams move in the past for the last few weeks of the regular season, but you can’t ask two teams to move,” Mayer said. “So, the only time we could ever play a game here is in February.”

For all of MetLife Stadium’s shortcomings (just ask a Jets or Giants fan), it is a state-of-the-art venue, with tremendous sightlines, that attracts world-class events (see: World Cup).

“It’s [also] in a very important market, not just for the NHL, but for our business partners, Keith Wachtel (senior EVP, chief business officer, NHL) said.

Verizon and Pepsi, two of the league’s biggest sponsors, are MetLife Stadium founding partners.

So, the NHL has had the venue on its short-list to host a Stadium Series matchup for some time.

Outdoor games are costly to stage (think: eight figures). In addition to venue rental costs, there are expenses associated with bringing in and building the rink, entertainment, gameday operations, media, advertising, and infrastructure construction both inside and out of the venue.

“Everything is [custom] designed. It’s like a giant set that we put together,” Mayer said.

This time around there were significant, unexpected snow removal costs too (think: six figures).

Having some state money to supplement event revenues is always helpful. But local stakeholders can also bring valuable in-kind services to the table.

“When you put these events on, you almost can’t do it right anymore without their contribution and support,” Mayer said (think: marketing and media connections). “And when they’re into it, which in this case they were, it’s a win-win-win situation.”

Those stakeholders made it clear that they were looking for the ‘24 Stadium Series to shine a spotlight on New Jersey. The NHL was more than happy to oblige.

Doing so helps to differentiate this year’s event from past outdoor games in the area, and enables the league to celebrate a unique market within the big four sports landscape. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Mayer and countless other league officials are also local to the area.

As hosts of the weekend, the Stadium Series will look and feel like a Devils’ event (even on Sunday).

“A lot of our branding, our logo, and the field design is [all focused] on New Jersey,” Mayer said. “When people tune in, they’ll immediately know [where] the games are being played.”

The Stadium Series ‘set’ will resemble one of New Jerseys countless parks, complete with running paths and dog walkers. Team alumni will be in attendance, and all the accompanying entertainment will feature local artists.

The Jonas Brothers, who hail from nearby Wyckoff, are putting on a full concert before Saturday Night’s game, and The Gaslight Anthem will perform their hit –and the Devils’ goal song– “Howl” during the first intermission (and after every goal).

“Some of the celebrities that we’re having [in attendance, like Barstool’s Frank Fleming and Giants QB Tommy DeVito,] will lean into the Jersey theme [too],” Mayer said.

There will also be NJ-centric content integrations (think: Sopranos) and F&B activations.

“We’re going to do a Taylor Ham pork roll [sandwich],” Mayer said.

Location and branding aside, the New Jersey Stadium Series will be a different experience than previous renditions. The league is playing two outdoor games, on back-to-back days, for the first time.

The Devils will play host to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night, and the New York Rangers will take on the New York Islanders the following afternoon. Both games will air on ABC.

Selling 140,000+ tickets over two days is a heavy lift for the league. Particularly, with an expensive ticket (relative to a typical home game). The face value of the lowest priced seat Sat. night is $65.

But with four fan bases in close proximity, and the additional pomp and circumstance surrounding the interdivision rivalry games (think: live music, pyro, and a flyover), the league was confident it could. And as of print, it looks like it will. The two matchups are trending towards selling out.

World Cup construction has limited capacity for Stadium Series games. The NHL will lose several thousand more seats on Saturday night to accommodate the stage needed for the Jonas Brothers concert (which is why attendance on both days will be below the 82,500 MetLife seats).

To be clear, it is the NHL, not the Devils, losing those seats. The NHL buys out the home teams so that the clubs are made whole (i.e. the Devils will receive what they would have earned for a game against the Flyers at Prudential Center plus a bit more). Any additional ticketing revenues go towards covering expenses.

Outdoor hockey games are not profit centers for the league. But that is not their purpose, either.

“First and foremost, it’s [for the] fan experience. These games have “become one of the go-to events that people have on their bucket list,” Wachtel said. “They are [also] a huge deal for our [players and] sponsors.”

More than 20 of the league’s national partners, including the event’s title sponsor Navy Federal Credit Union, will activate on site, in the local market, and on television.

And the NHL’s broadcast partners like them.

“These are our highest rated games of the year,” Mayer said.

So, the spotlight should be bright on New Jersey this weekend.

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