Mankiewich: Isles Left With Few Choices Except To Go Back To The Coliseum

It’s the story that won’t go away.

In October 2012, Islanders owner Charles Wang announced plans for his team to move to Barclays Center in Brooklyn. From that moment forward, even before the team finally moved in for the 2015-16 season, debate has raged about the arena’s long-term suitability for a National Hockey League franchise.

Its quoted capacity for hockey is 15,795, which is not only second smallest in the NHL, but includes several thousand seats at one end of the ice in which the near-side goal is not visible, rendering those seats useless except maybe when the Rangers were in town. While its location on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn is convenient to the Long Island Rail Road and several subway lines, it is situated far from the team’s core fan base in Nassau and Suffolk Counties, extending once-short travel times to full-blown commutes. Players league-wide have complained of poor ice conditions, due to a refrigeration system not considered up to NHL standards.

Each of these complaints had been parried by prospects of much worse alternatives, like a proposed move out of town if a replacement for the original Nassau Coliseum had not been found. Wang and associates had attempted to develop the area around the Coliseum as part of a package deal with a renovation or new arena in Uniondale (remember the Lighthouse?), but that famously failed in 2011. “At least it’s not Kansas City!” had been a standard response to any beef about late trains or bad sight lines.

Enough fans have been dissatisfied, however, to keep attendance at third-worst in the NHL, both last season (13,627) and this season so far (12,828), despite winning a playoff series last spring for the first time since 1992-93.

The net result of such complaints, however, had been repeated rumors of unhappiness from the Islanders front office, and with each, hope that the team might use its opt-out clause and find a solution back east. Again, the Islanders’ 25-year lease with Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment was viewed as ironclad, and assurances from CEO Brett Yormark, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Islanders management soon quelled any such speculation.

But where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

So when several media outlets jumped on a Bloomberg story that Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, not the Islanders, would be exercising its own opt-out, the only surprising thing about it was what caused the turnaround after so many reassurances.

As with any business decision, it pays to follow the money.

Bloomberg reported Monday that potential investors in Barclays Center received a financial document that omitted any revenue generated by the Islanders after the 2018-19 season, when the arena owners’ option goes into effect.

As part of the agreement with the Islanders, reported by Newsday, the arena pays the Islanders $53.5 million annually, the amount subject to adjustment by factors such as operating costs at the arena. In exchange, arena management took over most of the team’s business operations. After all the numbers were crunched, the Islanders were paid $37.5 million last season.

While Barclays Center management may be leaning away from having the Islanders in their largest property, they have not necessarily shown interest in severing all ties, especially if the Islanders seek to construct their own building in the immediate area. Such a venue would compete for shows and concerts with Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment’s own properties, in addition to Madison Square Garden in Manhattan and the Prudential Center in Newark.

Best for them would be a return to a renovated Nassau Coliseum, set to reopen this spring. With only 13,000 seats for hockey, though, Islanders ownership would certainly be setting its sights higher, even if more seats were added, but arena management continues to push the team in that direction. Meanwhile, the NHL has avoided making any statements on the issue.

It could no longer be hidden, though. While fans may still be thankful the New York Islanders were able to remain in their original market, the Barclays Center’s unsuitability for hockey was bound to be a problem in the longer term.

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