Schwartz: Nassau Coliseum Will Need A Hockey Team To Survive

Sometime in the spring of 2021, and the storybook ending would be mid to late June followed by a Stanley Cup parade down Hempstead Turnpike, the Islanders will play their final game ever at Nassau Coliseum…again.  We thought that was the case back in 2015, but the Islanders’ arena saga brought them back to their long-time home in December of 2018 as they get ready for the opening of the Belmont Park Arena in the fall of 2021.

The countdown is on again towards the Islanders’ finale at “The Barn” part two and the excitement is building towards the opening of their new home.  Belmont Park Arena is being built just nine miles west of the Coliseum and that will mean two arenas in Nassau County down the road, Hempstead Turnpike to be exact, from each other.  That begs the question…

Can the Nassau Coliseum survive after the Islanders leave for good when Belmont Park Arena opens?

Sure, the Coliseum will still attract concerts, family shows, and sporting events like New York Riptide lacrosse, Long Island Nets basketball, and maybe even down the road the return of Arena Football.  But that may not be enough for the Coliseum to keep its doors open.  The building will be losing their primary attraction next spring and that will create a big void.

I don’t have any inside information on the Coliseum’s plans for “Life After The Islanders”, but when I ask around to people in the sports business world how the two arenas can co-exist starting in the fall of 2021, the answer is generally the same…

“The Nassau Coliseum will need a hockey team,” is the general answer from those in the know. 

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has said repeatedly that the Nassau Coliseum is no longer an NHL caliber arena, but it certainly could be a really good minor league arena. 

In my opinion, it would make all the sense in the world for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Islanders’ affiliate in the American Hockey League, to relocate to the Coliseum and keep the Isles’ tradition at “The Barn” alive for years to come.  This would be similar to when the Philadelphia Flyers moved into their new home which is now called the Wells Fargo Center and they placed their AHL team, the Philadelphia Phantoms, in their old home next door at the Spectrum.  A number of years later, the Spectrum was torn down and the Phantoms are now in Lehigh Valley, but the minor league team was able to keep the arena alive a little longer.  

The Sound Tigers moving to Long Island is far from a sure thing at this point.  The team is owned by Islanders owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky while Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport is operated by the Oak View Group the company that is involved in the development of the Belmont Park Arena.   While there are many who believe that a relocation of the team would be smart, there are obviously some obstacles in the way.  Remember about eight years ago, when there was a thought that the Sound Tigers moving to the Coliseum was inevitable?

It almost happened…sort of.      

When it was announced in August of 2013 that Forest City Ratner had won the rights to redevelop the Coliseum, part of the winning bid included the procurement of an AHL team to play in the downsized arena.  At a press event to celebrate the winning bid, Forest City founder Bruce Ratner was asked what team will move to the Coliseum and he quickly said “The Sound Tigers”.   The Sound Tigers then sent out a statement denying this and stating that they had a long-term lease at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport. 

That lease reportedly ends after the 2020-21 season which coincides with the Islanders leaving the Coliseum for Belmont.  

Now truth be told, I enjoy heading up to Bridgeport to see the Islanders of the future and I’ve said many times just how great a building Webster Bank Arena is.  But the truth is that the team doesn’t draw well there and there is the belief by many that the Sound Tigers would have a bigger fan base if they relocated to the Coliseum.  It’s always been my opinion that the Sound Tigers are playing in an area that is mainly made up of Rangers fans and Bruins fans. 

My feeling is if they were able to schedule as many games as possible at the Coliseum when the Islanders weren’t home at Belmont, the Sound Tigers would be able to attract better crowds than they are now in Bridgeport.  There are certainly a good number of Islanders fans, including myself, who can make it up to Bridgeport once or twice during the season to check out the Sound Tigers.  But, if the Sound Tigers played at the Nassau Coliseum, it would be more convenient for Islanders fans to go to more games on Long Island.  Also, the Sound Tigers already have some history at the Coliseum having played a few games there because of scheduling conflicts in Bridgeport and during the NHL lockout in 2004-05 when the Islanders moved a couple of games there with one drawing a sellout crowd.  

Now if the Sound Tigers don’t eventually move to the Coliseum, there is still going to be the need for a hockey team there.  Maybe the Rangers move their AHL team in Hartford to Long Island or maybe the operators of the Coliseum are able to get a team from another minor league to play there.  It would just be a shame for an arena with so much hockey history to not have a hockey team playing there.

I’ll miss the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum but their new home at Belmont is going to be spectacular and it will truly make them a world class franchise.  But just because the Islanders are leaving, that doesn’t mean that the Coliseum has to be forgotten.  It won’t if they are able to secure a hockey team, whether it’s the Sound Tigers or another team, the Coliseum’s hockey history shouldn’t end when the Islanders leave…again and for good. 

About the Author

Peter Schwartz

Peter Schwartz is a contributor covering the Islanders for NY Sports Day while also writing about general sports in the New York/New Jersey area. In addition to his column, Peter also hosts his “Schwartz On Sports” podcast as he interviews players, coaches, and other sports personalities. He is also currently a sports anchor for WFAN Radio, CBS Sports Radio, and WCBS 880 radio while also serving as the public address announcer for the New York Cosmos soccer club.

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