The Devils, on the strength of a gorgeous overtime goal by Travis Zajac, pushed their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series with Florida to a decisive Game 7 on Tuesday night, winning 3-2.
But before the puck was even dropped in Newark this evening, New Jersey had already notched a big victory with their fans in the social media realm.
Yesterday afternoon, Panthers president Michael Yormark took to Twitter to declare that the familiar plastic rats will not be sold at the team store like they had been in past years due to some of them being tossed onto the ice during play, as opposed to after victories.
Rather than alienating his own fan base by blaming them for firing them onto the playing surface during game action, he took Devils fans to task, saying they were deliberately trying to draw a penalty on the Panthers by repeatedly interrupting play.
Listen, Mr. Yormark. We're not saying you're wrong here. But for a fan base that failed to sell out Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2003, we're hard-pressed to think there's too many gaggles of them congregating in Sunrise for a few first-round matchups.
As any public figure who says something controversial, Yormark received plenty of responses from Devils fans on Twitter. Rather than take the high road, you know, like an established high-ranking official of a professional sports team, he chose to snap back at a few select fans:
No one cares what you think?! You mean to tell me that nobody in the Panthers offices caught this and even thought about mentioning something along the lines of "Hey, uh Mike? Not sure that's the best idea. Kind of makes us look like a bunch of confused degenerates."
Oh, and by the way, Mr. Yormark, this is the first time since the turn of the century your team is participating in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Let the fans enjoy the ride. And in case you hadn't noticed, you're not exactly running a cash cow down there in Sunrise. Who are you to turn your nose up to a revenue stream that's connected to the only time in your franchise's history you weren't a total embarrassment?
The Devils social media department, upon getting wind of this, showed Yormark a thing or two about taking the high road. Will Carafello, New Jersey's Director of Digital Marketing, reached out to Lauren Rubino, also known as @LaurenAshley07:
I’d like to invite @LaurenAshley07 2 tonights game. 2 sit in Suite202 above @PanthersYormark. Maybe he will b a nice guy stop by 2 apologize
— Will Carafello (@WillCarafello) April 24, 2012
This was no bluff. A few minutes later, Carafello posted a photo of the tickets he was leaving for Rubino, who in fact attended a memorable Game 6 victory for her beloved Devils.
Oh, and as for her follower count? The Devils official twitter account (@NHLDevils) as well as a number of bloggers, including Yahoo! Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski (admittedly a Devils fan) have spearheaded a campaign to get their fans to follow her.A number that stood at less than 75 around noon now stands at well over 1,000 and counting. Wyshynski points out that she's now only trailing Yormark by roughly 2,000 followers. It appears as though people do care what Ms. Rubino has to say after all.
Yormark and Carafello exemplified the glaring difference between the Devils and Panthers. Forget the on-ice success, or lack thereof in Sunrise. This is just the latest example of the Devils scoring huge points with a small, yet rabid fan base in New Jersey.
With the Flyers and Rangers to compete with on either end of their state lines, success at the box office becomes contingent on a number of factors besides just wins and losses. Interaction with fans is paramount. And few do it better than the Devils. Hats off to their social media department, who continues to be among the best in pro sports with regards to interacting with the people who essentially pay their salaries.