NHL Islanders to move to Brooklyn, keep name as-is

Guess I’ll have to eat a little crow on this one.

It’s 14,500 because they have to cut into the seating bowl the same way US Airways/America West Arena was set up for hockey. This is not going to be acceptable long-term for either the NHL or the Islanders, no matter how much asbestos they find in Nassau.

Turns out that Barclays Center is perfectly acceptable to both the NHL and Islanders owner Charles Wang, because he signed a 25-year, “ironclad” lease at the new arena starting with the 2015-16 season. Wang, who grew up in Queens and went to high school at Brooklyn Tech, has owned the Isles since 2000. He lives on Long Island’s Gold Coast.

The Islanders play at the four decades-old Nassau Coliseum and have lobbied for a replacement facility for years. Seven months ago, complaints by arena employees led to an investigation that found asbestos in the building. While airborne asbestos was not detected in public areas, a cleanup effort started during the summer to ensure that employees wouldn’t face additional exposure. OSHA then wrote up 16 citations against the arena related to the asbestos problem.

Wang and Nets co-owner/developer Bruce Ratner had talked for years about a joint arena effort, but that appeared to go dormant when Wang campaigned for his own arena and master planned development on the site of the Coliseum. That project, which would’ve required $400 million in public funding, lost by a landslide in 2011. During today’s press conference at Barclays Center, Wang indicated that talks with Ratner started up again about seven months ago, making it appear as if the asbestos problem triggered Wang’s decision to give up entirely on Nassau County.

Already stuck in a smallish arena (16,250 for hockey) with incredibly poor attendance (11-13,000 per game on average over the past few years), Wang probably figured that even with Barclays’ hockey-compromised seating bowl and low seat yield (14,500 for NHL games), it’s better than staying at Nassau. Ratner and Wang will continue to figure out ways to add another 500-1,000 seats, according to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. If no new seats can be added, Barclays would have the lowest capacity of any active NHL venue, with 500 fewer seats than Winnipeg’s MTS Centre.

To illustrate how bad this is for hockey, take a look at the following seating chart from Barclays Center/Ticketmaster. Like Oracle Arena, the Barclays Center seating bowl is tight around the basketball court. Only one end has retractable seats, with the other three sides having poured concrete down to near the floor. Seats at the compromised end would be high above the ice, making the only good seats the first row. If you’re wondering, hockey at Oracle Arena would look much like this. If the Warriors build a basketball-first arena as has been the recent trend in the NBA, they’d have the same problem staging hockey games.

This chart indicates that most available seats will be used.

Now looking at this seating chart, released by the arena and the Islanders for an exhibition game that was supposed to be played there a few weeks ago. Looking at this in hindsight, it’s possible that the event was scheduled to help Wang and Islanders figure out how best to stage hockey games there. With the lockout wiping out all exhibition games and at least the first month of the 2012-13 NHL season, the parties may have felt that it was simply best to move forward with the announcement, knowing that the lockout could continue for some time to come.

Seats made available for sale for Islanders exhibition game.

Bettman played down the drop in capacity, noting Winnipeg’s success and the 1,000+ seat disparity between the new and old venues as being “little material difference”. Wang affirmed that the team would continue to be called the “New York Islanders” instead of the “Brooklyn Islanders”. Though, as Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky pointed out, the current Isles’ logo doesn’t have either Queens or Brooklyn on it.

Barclays Center sits on top of Atlantic Yards, a long-used yard for the Long Island Rail Road. It’s across the street from Atlantic Terminal, Brooklyn’s rail/subway hub. By virtue of that transit accessibility, Barclays will be more accessible to fans by transit than Nassau Coliseum, though many who are used to driving (most of the fanbase) may be inconvenienced.

39 thoughts on “NHL Islanders to move to Brooklyn, keep name as-is

  1. I wouldn’t worry about eating crow on this one. No one I’ve read anywhere saw this one coming. The poor layout alone made it seem impossible this would happen. That said, the Isles fans I’ve talked to today are all happy about this. I’ve yet to find one who has any reservations. This may be in no small part because the 25 year lease securing the team’s future in the NYC/Long Island area overrides any reservations about 1/4 of the arena having bad sightlines (or the fact the overhead scoreboard won’t even be centered over center ice), or the expected ticket price hike due to diminished capacity.
    .
    Isles fans, much like Sac Kings fans, A’s fans, Raiders fans, Chargers fans, Rams fans, etc… have lived with the spectre of their team being moved away to Quebec or Kansas City for many years now. I suspect more than anything they’re just happy it’s finally over and that it ended up more or less their way even if it means an added 30-45 minutes to get to games for those further out on the island.

  2. Ouch 25 year lease to play in what will be one of the worst NHL ready venues. Hope they plan on putting a competitive team in place to attract newer fans. Don’t think this will work out, even New Yorkers are not dumb enough to pay high prices for a bad product for too long.

  3. Anybody who ever saw a hockey game at America West Arena in Phoenix knows how bad a basketball-configured arena is for NHL hockey. I’m surprised the NHL is even allowing this. It’s definitely a situation where the Isles are settling for a second-class solution. Why didn’t they just move to Seattle?

  4. Mike, the Knicks would beg to differ.

  5. Maybe my geography is wrong but won’t the islanders now be less than 10 miles from MSG and the Rangers- where is the TR payment? Another example showing how ridiculous the gints claim is on SJ- MLB and bs are laughing stocks in the sports world

  6. pjk you have this right, I have seen games at America West and this is not an acceptable set up for NHL hockey.Those seated above the (open end)could’nt even see the goalie below.They had to watch on the jumbo-tron, ECHL hockey was not an issue, since no seats were sold anywhere close to that end. I am very suprised, maybe the NHL is just desperate for anything new with luxery boxes..That exhibition chart is funny also.156.00 for an up close exhibition ticket??? I take it that the 14,500 would be from the proposed first diagram and not the exhibition layout.

  7. @Dan
    You might have me on that one. I do forget that 10,000,000 + people have nothing better to do with their disposable income and attend the Knicks / Rangers even when they are bad. Same with Cubs fans I guess.

  8. @GoA’s
    Don’t forget about the NJ Devils, they play 10 miles away from NYC and have a hard time drawing fans. This is my other team I follow, I would hate to see one of the better eastern conference teams move in a few years due to overwhelming debt.

  9. Isles-A’s situations are similar. Just like Oakland, Nassau County expected the team owner to build a new facility on his own dime. Didn’t happen…

  10. re: Don’t forget about the NJ Devils, they play 10 miles away from NYC
    …the Isles situation represented a chance to reduce the number of NHL teams in the New York area to two – still probably one too many. Now, they’ll stuck with the same old Rangers selling out and other two teams failing at the Box Office.

  11. @mike2 and Phil- great point on the Devils- makes no sense to me having the islanders play in an arena that is missing some of the best seats in the house- seats around the net in the Tank are premium seats- hopefully soon will be able to tell Go Sharks-

  12. As a NY resident I am baffled by this decision. I guess being within the 5 boroughs is better than having a new arena that is suitable for hockey. Charles Wang didn’t want to give up that connection. Real hockey fans in Nassau/Suffolk lose out but, then, since owners aren’t sitting at those obstructed-view seats they’re not going to care about that minor detail.

    At the other end, the Nets and Barclays Center got away with building a basketball-first arena and still getting some extra $$$ from hockey games. Not that I care, since I always thought the Islanders should stay out there, with either a refurbished arena or a new arena in Nassau or Suffolk. I prefer association football to the NHL, anyway.

  13. GoA’s. Territory isn’t an issue in the Islander’s move. Brooklyn, Queens and the rest of Long Island were already the Islanders designated territory. Have been since the 70′s.

  14. My pt being they are moving closer to 2 other teams-mlb’s logic and timeframe is ridiculous

  15. Not sure their logic has anything to do with it at this point. Remember whether we like it or not Wally Haas made the mistake of agreeing to the territorial arrangements as they exist now. It’s not like MLB forced him into it. Now whether that arrangement had a limitation on the Giants having to move to SJ is the real question.

  16. Didn’t see this mentioned anywhere, but it looks like the Islanders getting locked up long term wasn’t the only arena happenings yesterday. The Grizzlies appear to be all but locked up in Memphis as of yesterday and the Milwaukee Bucks also signed a new 6 year lease on their arena. Why does this matter? Because all three teams were being courted at some point by Hansen in Seattle for his new SODO arena. With those three teams off the table, the list of teams available to move to Seattle in the next couple of years has significantly dropped. So much so that really the only options left are the Kings in the NBA and the Blue Jackets and Coyotes in the NHL (and the Coyotes are of course still working on fleecing Glendale for all it’s worth).
    .
    So all in all, yesterday was bad news for Sacramento Kings fans. Hansen will be coming, and if he can convince the Maloofs to sell him at least a majority share, the Kings will be leaving.

  17. If MLB still feels that an Oakland ballpark is a viable option, they should pay for it. The Giants will be happy, the Oakland-only crowd will be happy, the neutrals will be happy and I bet most SJ-supporters will be happy to put all this behind them.

  18. Nice piece by Shaikin. Although many of his statements about the Giants opposition most likely predate June, since both Baer and Wolff have been following a gag order with “no comment” since. So they’re making great progress…sounds good to me!
    BTW, its always been absurd for the Giants to falsely claim their season ticket base resides in the SJ area. Even if this were true (and yes, there are some season tix holders down here), are these hard-core fans really going to switch allegiances to the A’s in San Jose? No! Again, Niners are moving to Santa Clara and I’m staying true to the Silver and Black.

  19. @Dan- I was one who stated it would be a good move by Wang to move to Brooklyn.

    He should have partnered with Ratner from the get go but he really wanted to keep the team in Nassau County where it has been from the beginning.

    Or he should have at least used Ratner as leverage as I think the residents of Nassau never thought he would pick and leave to Brooklyn….Now they are all shell shocked that they are losing their team.

    Granted the views are obstructed on one side of the arena but it does not matter. Why? He had zero club seating and suites at Nassau. He was only getting 11-13k in fans anyways. So 14,500 is not bad considering he will make $$ of the premium seating that he lacked.

    The Islanders based on market size cannot receive revenue sharing no matter how much money they lose. They have a low payroll and are essentially stuck in a dump of an arena in ironically a very rich area.

    Now they will get 13k of fans a game but will be able to increase payroll significantly and have made a commitment to Brooklyn long run. Eventually the capacity will be 15k-16k and will be more than Winnipeg.

    There was zero end in sight in Nassau County and Wang saw it clearly. Now he can keep the team in NY by moving 30 miles west and keep some of his fan base while growing a new one.

    25 years is a good lease and I am sure he is getting a nice deal to move into what is an essentially a basketball arena….Wang would not agree otherwise.

    Kudos to the Islanders, they will be able to increase payroll, keep players long term, and become a big market team that they should be now….Free agents will love playing at Barclays.

    Now if only the A’s could move 35 miles south to San Jose…..They would reap similar benefits.

  20. I thought it was a bad idea as soon as I heard that Barclays Center was going to be designed for NBA only, and now it’s been shown to be correct. Hopefully the Warriors change their minds and don’t make the same mistake with their new arena. Even if you don’t plan to ever have NHL at your arena and even if the hockey rink setup limits attendance to a small size, it will still be beneficial as you can host exhibition games, a minor league team, figure skating, and/or use it in a bid for the winter olympics.

  21. Not even 21 miles actually. This move is just a little over half the one the A’s are proposing (ala like when the A’s were looking to move to Fremont). As for Barclays being a mistake, I disagree. No point in making your arena sub par for your sport (NBA) when there is no team planning on using it in the other sport (which for Barclays there wasn’t because the Islanders showed no interest when construction was being planned). For the Warriors, what would be the point of making their arena hockey ready? There’s no team that would want to move in, any Olympic bid hockey could be accommodated in the larger HP Pavilion anyway. And the suboptimal Barclay’s style hockey setup is fine for exhibitions and minor league hockey (which rarely have crowds even big enough to fill the lower bowl horseshoe). And as for ice shows, etc… they tend to have a stage side anyway which an arena like Barclays naturally accommodates.

  22. Why on Earth would there be a winter Olympic bid for SF? That would never happen here.

  23. True. It wouldn’t be an SF bid. More likely the Bay Area might be involved in some Tahoe/Reno bid seeing as there are no really large hockey arenas in that area and it’s not looking like Sac will have one any time soon.

  24. Crazy idea is crazy. Bay Area bid for the Winter Olympics?

  25. @Dan Have you not heard of the San Francisco Bulls? Compare the Cow Palace to other ECHL arenas and suddenly that new arena looks attractive. And about minor league teams being fine with the bad hockey setup… just look at the Seattle Thunderbirds (a junior team, btw). They moved out of Key Arena to an arena in a suburb partly because of the terrible hockey setup. As for the Olympics… if you weren’t aware, Vancouver used 5 venues for ice events. One was the NHL arena where most of the hockey was played, but there was also a secondary hockey venue for overlapped games, a venue for the speed skating oval, a venue for curling, and a venue for figure skating (the official olympic size is actually larger than an NHL rink, btw). If there were to be a Tahoe/Bay Area bid I would expect the new Warriors arena would certainly be a candidate for one of those (other than the speed skating oval, which won’t fit inside any of the arenas and would need a new structure). It’s not like having an arena that’s compatible with a hockey rink is so bad that basketball fans are going to boycott going to the arena. It merely provides the arena operator the flexibility to hold more events. Sure it might cost more to build it, but I think the revenue gained will pay off in the long run.

    @dmoas The idea of a combined Tahoe/Bay Area bid didn’t come from me. I believe even ML has talked about it previously.

  26. Ezra, I’ve heard of the Bulls. They’re quite fine at the Cow Palace right now, and if they exist in a few years maybe they’ll consider moving into the SF arena. But like I said, for minor league teams the hockey layout isn’t all that relevant. Your Seattle outlier not withstanding in no small part due to Key Arena not exactly being in the best most accessible part of that town.
    .
    As for an Olympic bid, while it’s an interesting idea, you’re talking about a bid for an event that wouldn’t occur for 15+ years. The USOC has already killed Tahoe/Reno’s 2022 bid to focus on the 2024 Summer games. Which means if we win those, which there is a good likelihood of, 2026 would probably be off the table too. Again, there is little point in the Warriors owners, who are footing the bill, making their arena less suitable for basketball on the off chance they might be involved in an Olympic bid 15-20 years from now. Nor does it make sense for a third tier minor league hockey team that might not exist next season (SF’s last minor league team barely lasted 3 seasons). Nor does it make sense for ice shows which actually don’t need a full hockey arena setup.

  27. Ezra, just for reference I suggest perusing the rest of the ECHL’s western conference which the Bulls participate in. You’ll note all teams play in arenas far smaller than the presumed hockey capacity in the new SF arena, and that all but one (Stockton) are also in the horseshoe or near horseshoe configuration as well. So the Bulls would be in fine company.
    .
    Las Vegas Wranglers – http://lasvegaswranglers.com/tickets/seating-chart/
    Bakersfield Condors – http://bakersfieldcondors.com/tickets/rabobank-arena/
    Ontario Reign – http://www.ontarioreign.com/tickets/seatchart/

  28. @Dan There is also talk that the western NHL teams want to move their AHL teams to be closer to them. If that were to happen, SF would be a great spot for the Shark’s AHL affiliate. But as for the Bulls, I think they would get better attendance in the Warriors arena than at the Cow Palace, which would help enable their survival. And Key Arena is actually in a very accessible part of town (especially compared to Renton where they moved, which you have to drive to). It’s just north of downtown and you can take the monorail from the downtown transit hub to Seattle Center. It’s not really any further away from downtown than the new arena they are considering building is supposed to be.
    .
    The Olympic bid would just be one of the possible things there. I don’t know why everyone keeps focusing on it. Honestly I think exhibition games and a minor league team are far more important factors even if the Olympics are guaranteed. I just mentioned it as one possible option. And you keep mentioning ice shows, but I’m talking about figure skating like the Olympic sport. Even if there aren’t the Olympics, the Warriors arena could try to get the US championships and all sorts of other events where an Olympic sized rink is needed.

  29. Ezra, when you consider that Barclays center was already filled over 200 dates every year BEFORE hockey got involved, I don’t think the Warriors need worry about a ice hockey championships (particularly since a Bay Area location for such events already exists. And again, you keep bringing up minor league hockey, which doesn’t need a full sized rink, be it AHL or ECHL.

  30. @Dan there is a difference between when the arena itself is built as a horseshoe and when the ice doesn’t fit in the arena such as with Barclays resulting in the lower bowl being a horsehoe. At Barclays the ice isn’t centered. So sight-lines at Ontario Reign games where the ice is centered will be better than sight-lines at Islanders games. Besides, why should the “premier” arena in SF be comparing itself to small arenas in places like Bakersfield and Ontario? And why is it really such an issue with you for an arena to be designed to properly hold an ice rink?

  31. @Dan Who said anything about ice hockey championships? And yes, AHL and ECHL need full sized rinks. You probably meant to say full sized arenas though, and yes I agree with that, which is why a small Warriors arena would be perfect if the ice is properly centered. There are many AHL teams that play in arenas of that size.

  32. Because it’s not an ice arena. It’s a basketball arena. I’m not sure why you’re so hell bent on it being able to host ice events that it doesn’t need to host to the detriment of it’s primary tenants, the Warriors. I mean look at it this way, the Warriors and their fans have become used to watching games at an arena designed around their sport. You’d ask them to go back to an inferior multipurpose layout just to benefit a few potential one off events or a third tier minor league team. It made no sense when the Oakland Arena was renovated in the 90′s and it still makes no sense for their new arena, which is why the Warriors won’t do it.

  33. I’m not saying to prioritize hockey sight-lines over basketball ones. I’m just saying don’t completely ignore hockey (or anything else that could use a larger area) by building both ends with retractable seating so an ice rink can be centered, rather than only having one end with retractable seating like in Barclays. How is that detrimental to the team or to a basketball fan’s experience? It just means the team will be able to host more events which means making more money, which is, after-all, what the owners want. And as a bonus it will provide better hockey viewing.

  34. this is VERY similar to the A’s to san jose thing. theyre staying in the same market but theyre going just out of reach from the center of their fan base. its a shame that nassau county and uniondale couldnt get something done out in the hemstead area but the city just had no interest in keeping the isles. it sucks but now theyll go to brooklyn where i think theyll be appreciated despite brooklyn being a huge ny rangers area

  35. @mike2, the islanders have a great system building and in my opinion are going to make the playoffs this year or at least have a very convincing run, judging on the talent on their team. i expect them to be very good going into brooklyn and if the isles market themselves correctly now, they can probably bring in a bunch of fans from brooklyn NOW, for the playoffs NOW, and that will help them ease into the new city in 2015.

  36. @ Big Al

    You prob no more about the Isles than I do. I am a Kings fan so outside of the Devils and Caps I don’t follow east coast hockey too much.

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