This has been on the clock for years. The Islanders – forever the ninth team in a nine team market – are now flirting with Kansas City, starting next season with a preseason game against the Los Angeles Kings.
Now, no one can blame owner Charles Wang for looking elsewhere. His team is currently last in the league in attendance – averaging 13,566 over 20 dates – he reportedly loses $20 million a year, and the Lighthouse renovation project is still out in the fog.
But before the Islanders become the new Kansas City Scouts, he should consider if the grass is greener on the other side. The Royals are traditionally a small market team, the Chief were the only franchise to take Herm Edwards off the Jets hands, and KC’s last foray into hockey ended up in Newark.
Wang needs to exhaust every single option on Long Island, and that includes selling the team to a local owner, who will keep the Isles in the area.
Before Wang puts up the “For Sale” sign on the Coliseum lawn, he should look at other local options. If Nassau County isn’t coming through, maybe Suffolk Country will with a stadium deal. That may be unlikely, because if Suffolk was an option, it would probably be an option on the table.
No, the best plan to save the Isles is to look for a local owner who will revitalize the club, while having the smarts to let good hockey people run the club.
In short, Wang should look at the Wilpons as potential owners.
Now, this could be a marriage made in heaven. Fred and Jeff Wilpon have been very successful revitalizing the Mets over the last few seasons. Despite a few collapses, the owners have drawn record crowds, opened up a successful regional sports network, and in a few months the first new stadium in the City of New York since the current Madison Square Garden opened in 1968. [Yankee Stadium opens the next day].
With a purchase of the Islanders, who are valued by Forbes at $154 million, the Wilpons could use the second franchise to create synergy with the Mets. Since both franchises share the same fan base, the Isles could use the publicity the Mets generate with capacity crowds at Citi Field. And although the television contract is enslaved to Cablevision, the Wilpons could still use SNY for Isles news coverage until they eventually get the games.
Then there’s the Coliseum. As you may recall, the Wilpons were the runners up in the renovation deal. If Wang sells, the county could just go back to the old plan of a new arena and minor league baseball stadium.
It makes too much sense, which may be the reason why it won’t happen. And the Wilpons may not be interested, even though they are from Long Island. After getting hammered by Bernie Madoff, they may not have the money and could get strapped if the capacity crowds just don’t show up at the new building. And then there’s Wang who will probably sell the team at a loss, since he paid $180 million for the club.
But it’s worth a shot. Even with a brand new arena, Kansas City is still a small market, and not a hockey town, so is KC the answer? Given the history of the Islanders, the team deserves to stay in New York.
Wang selling to the Wilpons may be the Isles best hope.