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.
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.
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.