by Jake Bisimis, special to NY SportsDay
From 1972 to 2015 Long Island was home of the New York Islanders.
In that time-frame the Islanders enjoyed a period of dominance winning four straight Stanley Cup Finals from 1980-1983, as well as a period of utter dismay headlined by not winning a playoff series in 23 years.
The one constant through both the glory and misery was the unrelenting support of the Long Island faithful. Islanders fan constantly “rocked the barn” game after game, year after year, at the Nassau Coliseum.
That’s why when the team moved to Brooklyn in 2015 many fans felt betrayed by the organization. Especially because for the first time in a long time, the team was trending upwards to a brighter future.
In 2015-2016, the team’s first year in Brooklyn, the Islanders won their first playoff series in 23 years. The Barclays Center erupted as John Tavares’ overtime goal sent the Islanders to the next round of the playoffs.
Fast forward three years and the Islanders seemed to be headed back to the dark times of old.
Captain and face of the franchise Tavares left to fulfill his dream of playing for his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2018 offseason.
Attendance is plummeting as the average home-game attendance for the 2018-2019 season is down more than 3,000 people than the 2014-2015 final season at Nassau Coliseum, even though the Barclays Center can hold about 4,500 more people.
The dive in home-game attendance can be attributed to numerous factors such as not making the playoffs the last two seasons, losing Tavares, etc., but the simple fact of the matter is that moving the New York Islanders to Brooklyn was a foolish business move back then, and now the price is being paid.
The Islanders went from being the prominent professional sports team on Long Island to being mixed in with all the other professional sports franchises that play in New York City. From having an arena all to their selves, to sharing one with the Nets, who the Barclays Center was clearly built for, forced the Long Island faithful to almost make the experience no different than being a Rangers fan.
The Islanders stripped their fans of their ultimate appeal. They were Long Island’s team. That’s what made them different. That’s what connected with the fans and secured their time and interest. When deciding to move to Brooklyn, the Islanders brass foolishly overlooked that fact.
In December of 2017 it was announced that the Islanders won a development bid to build a brand-new 18,000-seat arena in Belmont Park on Long Island.
With the new arena slated for construction, the team is playing 12 home games at Nassau Coliseum in the current 2018-2019 season, and 48 more in the final two seasons in Brooklyn.
As the team’s time in Brooklyn winds down it is clear that moving to Brooklyn wasn’t the right business decision for the Islanders. The organization failed to honor the undying loyalty that the Long Island faithful gave them for 33 years, losing sight of their strongest asset, the fans.
“The fans are the key to all sports business and bringing the Islanders back to Long Island will elate the fans and revamp interest in the team. Barclays Center is an amazing building but never felt like the right spot, and the revamped Coliseum, at least for now, seems to give the team the place it needs to begin the reconnect. As a Long Islander myself, I’m delighted that they are coming back home. It’s where they belong”, said Dan Mannix, President and CEO of the award winning marketing and event firm CSM LeadDog.
Many Islanders fans on Long Island saw Brooklyn and the Barclays Center as more of a rental than a true home for the team. In the end, it turns out they were right and the culture of the team suffered. Back on Long Island, either at Nassau or if and when they make the shift to Belmont, is where the team belongs and the results as a brand will surely score with fans, both existing and new.