Reynolds playing Devils advocate to reboot team
Starting at the age of 4, Jake Reynolds would often find himself standing in front of a hockey net at his family’s Salt Lake City home with couch cushions duct taped to his body by his teenage brother Jason. The older Reynolds would then lower the garage door onto the net, keeping it in place before proceeding to fire slap shots of orange street hockey pucks at his little brother.
That was the introduction to hockey for the younger Reynolds, but he’s since figured out a much safer way to participate in the sport. After spending two years as the chief revenue officer for Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, where his duties included overseeing ticket sales for the New Jersey Devils, Reynolds, now 35, was hired in September as the team’s president.
“Hockey is a sport that’s been in and around my life from the very beginning,” said Reynolds. As a toddler and the youngest of five, his parents took him and his siblings to watch the Salt Lake Golden Eagles of the now defunct International Hockey League. His wife, Emily, played for years on a club team at Utah Valley University, and the couple even participated in a co-ed recreational league when Reynolds worked for the New York Giants in the late 2000s.
“We prize culture in pretty high regard. We think it’s part of our competitive advantage. Jake’s a culture caretaker but even more a culture builder. He’s one of the best in the industry.”
The sport that gave Reynolds his professional start, however, was basketball. After his junior year at Utah Valley University he interned with the Indiana Pacers, and when he graduated in 2005, he rejoined the team as an account executive in the ticket sales group. The franchise, he said, had a reputation for developing talent in that department, which included his then-boss Ben Milsom, who is now the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ chief ticketing officer. Early in his career, Reynolds recalled being told by Scott O’Neil, currently the CEO of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, to never take a job based on the money, title or city, but rather, to accept a position based on your manager. It’s one of the key guiding principles he’s carried with him to Newark and imparted on students and younger professionals.
Reynolds left the Pacers in 2008 and then spent two years with the Giants and three with Monumental Sports & Entertainment, all in sales roles, before landing with the Philadelphia 76ers as senior director of sales in the summer of 2013. He had become the team’s CRO by the time HBSE — which also includes the Devils and Prudential Center, among other properties — was formalized in the fall of 2017 and soon became chief revenue officer of the combined enterprise. In March he was named to Sports Business Journal’s 2019 class of Forty Under 40.
Hugh Weber, the former president of the Devils and now in that same role for HBSE, said he and his senior leadership team identified three traits in Reynolds that made him a perfect candidate to be his successor in New Jersey: his ability to find solutions and think creatively around complex problems; his personal value system; and finally, a detail-oriented focus that keeps every team member accountable for their sales numbers.
“We prize culture in pretty high regard,” Weber added. “We think it’s part of our competitive advantage. Jake’s a culture caretaker but even more of a culture builder. He’s one of the best in the industry.”
Under Reynolds’ guidance, the Devils’ business side accelerated its strategy to put the franchise in a “100-point ready” position where it had the necessary infrastructure and resources in place to match that marker of on-ice success. According to Reynolds, it’s a phrase adopted from the Sixers’ “50-win ready” philosophy from years prior as the team evolved from an afterthought to a contender both on and off the court.
The 24-hour period in June in which New Jersey selected U.S. standout Jack Hughes with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and acquired Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban in a trade with the Predators gave the organization a chance to envision just such a bright future. In response, the team boosted its content efforts and quickly added nine individuals across digital, social and video. Since the NHL draft, the team has set and broken the daily video views record on its website nearly 20 times.
Since the draft, the ticket sales and service department also grew from 60 people to 105 and is now the largest in professional sports, Reynolds said. Heading into the current campaign, the Devils had more than a 90% renewal rate with its season-ticket base, in part due to those expedited content hires. As he explained, having the right infrastructure in place is necessary for when the team starts winning regularly again. In the past seven seasons, the Devils have made the playoffs just once and their five wins through Nov. 12 were the fewest in the NHL.
“We didn’t want to be caught flat-footed,” said Reynolds. “We wanted to make sure we had everything in place for that moment. We know it won’t be an overnight success where we flip the switch and the building is sold out every night, but this is indicative of being prepared to capitalize.”
As he learned years ago, Reynolds will be ready for whatever comes his way.