Escape From Brooklyn: Islanders Considering Move to Queens Says Report

The New York Islanders move to Barclays Center has not been a smooth transition. The arena is probably most famous to hockey fans for the egregiously obstructed view seating in the NHL’s second smallest rink. Not to mention all the press the rink got from player complaints about poor ice. Rumors have circulated for months that the Islanders might consider leaving Brooklyn, and that was substantiated Thursday by a report from Bloomberg’s Scott Soshnick.

Soshnick writes:

Willets Point is emerging as a persuasive alternative to the team’s current home at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center if the Islanders’s owners and arena officials can’t agree on a series of hockey-specific improvements, said the people, who asked for anonymity because the negotiations are private.

The Islanders, who are owned by Value Retail Plc founder Scott Malkin and Jonathan Ledecky, and Sterling Equities, which owns the Mets, have been discussing a possible move to Queens for months, said the people.

A move like that to Willets Point might coincide nicely with the Sterling and partner Related Cos. agreement with the city to redevelop Willets Point, an area just east of the Mets’ stadium. With new ownership taking over and lots of problems in Brooklyn, there may be a power move taking place to get those “hockey-specific improvements” to the arena rather than a serious intent to move. At least, that’s one way to see it. Though it’s certainly possible that a move is a real consideration given that those improvements may be very difficult to get.

The 15,700-seat arena (hockey capacity) has an estimated 1,500 obstructed view seats, and arena ownership doesn’t appear to be too bothered by that. In an interview with Sports Illustrated from February Brett Yormark, CEO of Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment, said:

Do we have some obstructed seats? Yes we do. Are fans aware of those obstructed seats before they purchase them? Yes they are. There’s really nothing we’re going to do from a capital improvement standpoint. You can watch the game on your mobile device. The game is on the scoreboard. There are many ways to view the game if you’re in one of those obstructed seats. We aren’t going to be able to change the seats in the building. That is what it is.

But does the move really happen? There are a ton of moving pieces. Scott Malkin and Jonathan Ledecky bought the team for a reported $485 million in 2014, but a slow handover didn’t have them taking sole control of the organization until July 1 of this year. The Islanders have the ability to opt out of their agreement with Barclays Center following the 2018-19 season. Could a new arena be ready by then? Sure. If it’s not, there’s always the possibility of trying out an old arena as a stop-gap solution three years from now. However unlikely that may be, they aren’t without options if discussion of leaving Barclays is more than posturing.

With the NHL’s third-lowest attendance last year, the incoming owners know there are troubles between the team and fans. Many fans didn’t like the move to Brooklyn as a locale, and many fans don’t like the arena. Not to mention that the team’s Long Island fans haven’t always had the easiest time finding their way into Brooklyn, or, more specifically, back to Long Island after the game. It’s something Ledecky acknowledged when meeting the media recently. “We are meeting consistently with Barclays and the Long Island Rail Road,” he said. “They ran extra trains for the playoffs. I said to the head of the Long Island Rail Road, ‘How come you can’t do that during the regular season?’”

They may also be more apt to move because the upside of Barclays is somewhat limited. They don’t own the arena and if they can turn attendance problems around and get those hockey improvements to the arena, their ability to earn is capped by having moved to a smaller arena despite being on the doorstep of over eight million residents in New York City alone.

There are still many questions to be answered, including just how far down this road Malkin and Ledecky have gone. Have their just been conversations angled toward getting some leverage over Barclays, or are there truly ongoing talks about a move to Queens? Either way, it would appear that season two in Brooklyn is going to matter a great deal to the future of where the Islanders will be playing in the long run.