Last week Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano announced the release of an RFQ to find a developer to finance and carry out the development of Nassau Coliseum and the surrounding area. Unsurprisingly there does not seem to be any optimism among fans or media that this will keep the Islanders in Nassau.
As tweeted today by Chris Botta, the Islanders don’t think so either, calling the plan “a transparent attempt to save face”. Of note also is that in this RFQ the county puts all the responsibility for keeping the Islanders on the master developer and it does plan for the Islanders leaving the arena, setting up the situation where the Islanders leave and everyone gets to pass the blame. The privately financed arena-complex failed (the Lighthouse Project), the publicly financed arena failed (the Aug 1 referendum) and now everyone seems to be preparing their exit strategy. For the fan base Nassau is still the best possible location for the team but with the break-up is now looking all but inevitable, the Barclays Center in Brooklyn is once again being spoke of as an option for the Islanders. Quite frankly that looks like the most logical for the post 2015 Islanders, and I can think of five good reasons why:
1. Wang Doesn’t Want to Move the Islanders out of the New York Area
Detractors of Charles Wang can say what they want about Wang’s hockey knowledge or his ability to run a team but one thing is certain, that he cares about the Long Island area. He grew up in the area, Computer Associates (now CA Technologies) the company he helped build is stationed on Long Island. The 120,000 square foot Charles Wang center he built on the campus of Stony Brook University is the single largest private gift given to any university in the State University of New York system. When he originally bought the team after the John Spano fiasco and the disastrous ownership of Howard Milstein and Steven Gluckstern, it was with the promise he would return the team to respectability and keep them on the Island. Wang has repeatedly stated that he wants to keep the team in the area, and up until this point he has given no reason to believe that is not the truth.
2. Brooklyn is More Feasible Than the Other Local Options
There are other local options that have been mentioned the past few years, such as the Willets Point project in Queens, or in Suffolk County but neither works as well as the Barclays Center. In Queens Wang would be forced into business with the Wilpon family, who are the New York Mets owners. While their involvement in the Madoff scandal seems to be all but settled anyone would have to be a little bit wary about getting into business with people who were just going to infomercial style lengths to sell pieces of their team. Besides, after the initial talk of an arena three years ago, and a few statements following the failure of the Nassau referendum not much has been said about an NHL-caliber arena being built in the area surrounding Citi Field. Which makes sense because despite greatness of the New York City area I’m not sure if it needs four professional-level sports arenas in a 20 mile radius.
Former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy had spoken of moving the Islanders to Nassau for years, both before and after the failure of the referendum. But Steve Bellone is now the new County Executive, and if he wants the Islanders to move to Suffolk, he has been very quiet about it. Unlike Nassau County, Suffolk hasn’t had Albany come to put a lock on the checkbook, but Bellone has announced a fiscal state of emergency and forthcoming cuts to county expenditures. With talk like that the idea of a publicly financed arena is certainly out. Even if Wang could get together another Lighthouse Project-like privately financed plan none of the previously proposed sites (Deer Park, Pilgrim Psych Center, Brentwood) are ready for a project of that size and the county would at least have to kick in money for road and mass transit improvements. Plus with only three years and counting left until the Islanders’ lease ends there might not be time to make a project of that magnitude work.
3. No Political Headaches
This might be the biggest reason for Brooklyn. After years of being at the forefront of political speeches all around Long Island the Islanders could end all of that and simply move into a ready-made arena. Bruce Ratner and the rest of the development team have already dealt with all of the political and legal headaches that go along with developing the area around the arena which means the Islanders could move in and immediately reap the benefits of playing in a revitalized area. All Wang needs to do is negotiate an lease agreement that allows them to be profitable and move the team. After all of the hassles of the last decade that has to sound pretty good.
4. When You Have Been Losing Ten Million Dollars a Season, You Go Where the Money is
One other thing Wang has told us repeatedly is that he has lost millions a year on the Islanders. Numbers vary but I don’t think anyone can look at this team and not believe that is a fact. The Barclays Center may not be made for hockey but that doesn’t mean that they can’t make more money playing in Brooklyn than in Nassau.
For a quick explanation, just look at what the move to Brooklyn is doing for the Nets. Go walk around Brooklyn and you will see more people wearing Nets gear than you have seen anywhere in Jersey the past ten years. There is a buzz and talk around them that they have never had. There is no reason to think that can’t happen for the Islanders too. Brooklyn has become the trendy spot for New York. If the Islanders are in the Barclays center they will have access to fans they could have never gotten otherwise. Move the team to Brooklyn and watch as the local hipsters start wearing retro Mike Bossy jerseys. If the Islanders put a winner together they can start to make some in-roads to getting a fan-base to match the Rangers.
Long Islanders will undoubtedly complain, but would that really cost them any fans? Islander fans overwhelmingly blame the Town of Hempstead and Nassau County for the current situation so I can’t imagine a move to Brooklyn will be seen as anything but Wang doing what he can to keep the team local. The Barclays center is only 40 minutes from the Nassau Coliseum by car and is accessible from the Long Island Rail Road. If you were a fan of the team in Nassau you probably will be a fan of them in Brooklyn, add to that the extra fans that the team can attract in Brooklyn and the team will be making some money for the first time in years.
5. The often repeated problem with Brooklyn, the arena size, will not be an issue
Finally we come to the main reason that is cited when people want to dismiss the Barclays Center as an option for the Islanders, the arena size. The Barclays Center was created for basketball, not hockey, so the sight lines are not perfect and the arena will only be able to seat 14,500 for hockey. That is 500 people less than the MTS Centre, home of the Winnipeg Jets and that would make the Barclays Center the smallest arena in the NHL. When compared to the problems that the other options pose this seems like a rather small obstacle.
The Islanders play an exhibition game in the Barclays center on October 2nd, giving everyone a chance to see how the arena will play to a hockey crowd. After seeing how that goes everyone can get a better idea of how the arena will work for hockey. With three years until the Islanders need a new arena there is time for something to be done to address the situation. One obvious solution to this problem is that the Barclays Center, or any arena that the Islanders move to will have much higher ticket prices than Nassau Coliseum. Add to that any increased revenue the Islanders could bring in from concessions and merchandise and the Islanders could find a way to make up for revenue lost from losing some low-priced seats.
When trying to address this issue it is important to remember that for the first time the Islanders will be working this out with businesspeople, not the politicians the Islanders have been dealing with. Once you take politicians out of the mix things start to become based on how much money can be made and not on what gets votes. Give businesspeople three years to figure out how to squeeze more money out of hockey in the Barclays Center and you can be sure that something will get done.
NHL Commisioner Gary Bettman is no longer opposed to the idea of the Barclays Center housing the Islanders and Wang has never ruled out the Barclays center either. Now it looks like the best landing spot for this team.