New York Islanders Need A New TV Deal

As one may already know by now, the New York Islanders will be getting a new home to play hockey in 2015.  The Isles will showcase their talents at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn.  They’ll have top of the line facilities for sure but they may be well advised to take another page out of the book of their basketball brethren and get top billing on TV.

John Tavares currently leads the New York Islanders in goals and points on the season (valorfaerie/Flickr)

This could just as easily apply to the metro area New Jersey Devils, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the Islanders.

For some background and context for those not familiar, currently the Islanders are televised regionally on MSG Plus.  MSG Network, whose parent company Cablevision owns the New York Rangers and the NBA’s New York Knicks, owns the TV rights to the Rangers, Islanders, Devils, Buffalo Sabres and obviously the NBA Knicks.

What that means is a hierarchy that usually puts the Knicks first, Rangers second and leaves the Devils and especially the Islanders scratching for breadcrumbs and their fans scrambling to find them.  It gets even dicier if you’re an Upstate New York hockey fan, who loves watching New York City area teams.  That’s because given NHL territorial rules and bylaws, the Sabres get priority over the Rangers, Islanders and Devils and those latter three get blacked out whenever the Sabres are at home.  For example, one could be living in Albany and be closer to the NYC market than Buffalo but get shorted on games because the Sabres have territorial rights granted by the NHL.  I’ll give you that there’s a solid contingent of Sabres fans where I live but it’s a bit odd when the majority of fans are Rangers fans and the Devils house their AHL team here.

Personally I don’t mind watching the Sabres but it does seem like double dipping by the league when they know that there’s a strong albeit fractured contingent of multiple teams in the area, whose only recourse is to buy NHL Center Ice, aka paying for a product they should already be getting.  But I digress.

Under their TV contract with MSG, the Islanders are getting about $20 million per season in rights fees through 2030-31.  So much like the Barclays Center lease and the Rick DiPietro contract, the Isles are seemingly in it for the long haul.  Yet as well as MSG does with their overall NHL production and coverage with Hockey Night New York, one would think the Islanders would be better off getting higher priority on another regional network.

It makes sense not only for the Isles but for a couple of other regional NYC area cable outlets.  Namely the YES Network and SNY.  Presently YES is the home of the MLB New York Yankees and NBA Brooklyn Nets, while SNY is home to the MLB New York Mets.  It stands to reason that the Islanders and Devils would probably be better off on either YES or SNY.  Those networks could use the additional programming and those teams wouldn’t run into nearly the same amount of conflicts as they do on MSG.

At one time when the Devils were in an ownership agreement of sorts with the Yankees and Nets and it was thought that they would eventually move to YES but that never came to fruition.  Before the Islanders played on MSG Plus, they played on FOX Sports New York, which was formerly SportsChannel, that along with the Isles aired the Devils, Nets and Mets.

Going forward, if I were the Islanders I’d be looking to get my games on a high profile network, in a higher priority slot.

Of course a winning product that’s a hot commodity will no doubt draw more eyeballs too.