How The Islanders’ Future Home UBS Arena Could Affect Business At Barclays Center

New York Islanders/UBS Arena

When the Islanders left the Nassau Coliseum for Barclays Center in Brooklyn back in 2015, the move from Long Island to one of New York City’s five boroughs was a tough pill to swallow for many of those in Islanders Country.  The fan base had to adjust from driving to games at the Coliseum to taking the Long Island Rail Road to Atlantic Terminal and walking across the street to their new home, but that wasn’t the only thing that Islanders fans had to get used to.

As if leaving their long-time home wasn’t hard enough for Islanders fans to handle, the Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment group, led by now former CEO Brett Yormark, also tried to alter some other Islanders traditions like not letting fans with upper bowl seats come down to the glass to watch pre-game warmups, changing the goal horn, doing away with the Ice Girls, and creating a black third jersey to mirror the Barclays Center’s primary tenant, the Brooklyn Nets.

It was believed that the Brooklyn folks, who had taken over the Islanders’ business operations, wanted a complete rebranding of the Islanders to the black and white, but they settled on the new threads simply being an alternate jersey.  There was also the matter of a scoreboard that hung over the blue line and obstructed view seats that prompted Yormark to suggest to angry fans that they could watch the game on the scoreboard or on their mobile devices.

Really?  Pay for a ticket and watch the game on my phone?

(The Islanders At Barclays Center)

The Islanders Still Needed A New Home: 

Once the Islanders started to move some games back home to Long Island at the renovated and downsized Nassau Coliseum, it became apparent that the marriage between the Islanders and Barclays Center was headed towards a breakup, especially after a television interview that angered Islanders Country.  On Sunday night February 25th, 2018, Yormark was a guest on Fox 5’s “Sports Extra”.

That night, Yormark basically served the Islanders with divorce papers even though the reality was that the Islanders, under new ownership led by Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky, also wanted to annul the Islanders residency in Brooklyn.

JANUARY 18 – BROOKLYN, NY: Brett Yormark, CEO of Barclay Center, addresses members of the media to announce the Keith Thurman vs Danny Garcia unification bout on March 4, 2017, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. (Photo by Edward Diller/Icon Sportswire)

“Unfortunately, it didn’t work,” Yormark told host Tina Cervasio.  “We had great hopes that moving the Islanders to Brooklyn would work.  Unfortunately, they were like a rent-a-team.  This team never really embraced Brooklyn.”

Then, Yormark addressed the Islanders’ plan to build a new arena on Long Island at Belmont Park.

“Obviously, they’re looking to build their own venue,” said Yormark.  “Not sure that ever happens, but if it does, I wish them well.”

UBS Arena Becomes A Reality: 

I wonder if Brett Yormark has sent any well-wishes to the Islanders because a year from now, the Isles will be playing at their new home as UBS Arena at Belmont Park is currently under construction and scheduled to open in time for the 2020-21 NHL season.

Islanders fans should be happy that Barclays Center was an option that prevented the team from moving out of market, but it’s clear that the Islanders in Brooklyn was never going to be a long-term relationship.  But Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment, now called BSE Global, certainly had to be concerned that a state-of-the art arena was being built that would create competition in the marketplace.

“Playing at the Nassau Coliseum was not a sustainable financial model for the Islanders,” said Michael Neuman, Executive Vice-President and Managing Partner of Scout Sports, the sports and entertainment division of media services agency Horizon Media.

“Many entities in the private and public sector would have to come together to make UBS Arena a reality.  In a state like New York, that’s not always an easy accomplishment.  I don’t think Brett expected the Islanders to remain a permanent tenant of the Barclays Center, especially since the venue configuration and ice quality were not conducive to optimal hockey arena specifications.”

So, the Islanders will play one final season at Nassau Coliseum before the ten mile move west along Hempstead Turnpike to their new home.

And now that UBS Arena is going to be a reality in less than a year, there is now going to be another option in the New York/New Jersey area for sports franchises, sporting events, concerts, and family shows.  Madison Square Garden is iconic and the home of the Knicks and Rangers will always be able to attract big-time sporting events and concerts while the Prudential Center in New Jersey, the home of the New Jersey Devils, is the desired destination for fans in the Garden State to see other sporting events and concerts.  It’s not yet known what lies ahead for the Nassau Coliseum after the Islanders leave and that brings us back to Brooklyn…

UBS Arena To Give Barclays Center A Run For It’s Money:

How will UBS Arena affect business at the Barclays Center?

“New sports and entertainment venues are the shiny new toys that sporting events want to associate with,” said Neuman.  “Just look at the rotation of marquee sporting events and tentpole events that find themselves hosted at new venues within a few years of their opening around the country.  The competition to host these events could create better financial arrangements for the rights holders who make those decisions.”

The Barclays Center will continue to be the home of the Nets and the arena also hosts a plethora of college basketball games along with boxing and MMA events.  Those events will satisfy plenty of dates in Brooklyn but the game-changer in the marketplace could come in the way of concerts and that’s where UBS Arena is ready to be a real force when it comes to attracting performers.  UBS Arena is being designed with a loan-in/load-out feature that is going to be extremely attractive to performers who are heading to the New York/New Jersey area during their tours.

“An artist that plays three nights at UBS versus Barclays can put an extra $400,000+ to the bottom line with savings yielded from the architectural benefits at UBS,” said Neuman.  Yes, MSG is MSG and if you can sell out a 18,000+ seat venue, you play MSG when you visit New York, but Long Island is an affluent market that has been underserved.”

Islanders’ New Home Has A Leg Up On The Competition:

UBS Arena is being “built for hockey” and is going to be “made for music” according to the developers.  The arena is expected to benefit from the novelty of being the most recent arena addition to the local marketplace but what the building also has is the Oak View Group which is partnering with the Islanders and Sterling Project Development on the project.   The Oak View Group includes Irving Azoff, the CEO of MSG Entertainment CEO which is a venture of the Madison Square Garden Company. That could give UBS Arena an edge over the Islanders’ former home in Brooklyn.

“That provides Oak View Group with a lot leverage when coordinating tours into the area,” said Neuman.

UBS Arena has been successful so far in terms of lining up sponsorships including the naming rights and founding partners.  Barclays Center was able to do the same thing before it opened and things are also going very well for the new arena in Seattle where the NHL expansion team, the Seattle Kraken, will play starting with the 2021-22 season.  Oak View Group is also involved with that new building and the Kraken is already believed to be one of the top-grossing NHL teams without even dropping the puck for the first time.

Given the construction costs of new arenas, there will be higher sponsorship prices and that could mean that sponsors who have been partners at multiple venues in the marketplace may have to make some difficult decisions.  That was the case in the late 2000’s when multiple new venues in the area opened including MetLife Stadium, Citi Field, the new Yankee Stadium, and Red Bull Arena.   There were many companies that had to pull back on sponsorships because there was only just so much sponsorship money to go around.

The Bottom Line At Belmont And In Brooklyn: 

So, will the presence of UBS Arena have an effect on business at the Barclays Center?

“I think it’s too early to determine the impact at Barclays Center,” said Neuman.  “But keep in mind, come NBA tip-off, the Nets are one of the most highly anticipated teams to watch and fans have been waiting over a year to see Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving play together.  We could be looking at a perennial NBA title contender for years to come so I expect the Barclays Center to have a solid upfront selling season.  The only watch out I have is the impact of COVID as so many traditional brand sponsors are still reeling from the business impact of this pandemic.”

Another big difference between UBS Arena and Barclays Center is how fans can get to each venue.

In Brooklyn, there is some parking in the area, but generally sports fans and concert goers depend on mass transportation including the subway and Long Island Rail Road.  For a lot of people, including Islanders fans, driving to Barclays Center was not a tangible option so they had to use the train.  But at UBS Arena, there will be plenty of parking on-site as well as the current LIRR service to Belmont Park.  Additionally, as part of the construction project, there is a new LIRR station being built on the main line in Elmont that will give fans another option with shuttle bus service to Belmont Park.

Islanders Fans Ready To Honk Their Car Horns And Ride The Rails: 

UBS Arena is going to be very convenient for those coming from anywhere on Long Island or even from New York City.

“Islander fans, long traditioned to drive onto the Nassau Coliseum lot, had been programmed for years to experience games in that manner,” said Neuman.  “Then, they were asked to drive to downtown Brooklyn and fight for limited parking, which did not positively impact their overall experience.  Research showed it actually turned many fans away, especially those who would also eschew taking LIRR into Brooklyn.  The capital expenditures invested into the enhanced LIRR experience at UBS Arena, plus the 7,000 parking spots, will be a breath of fresh air to all visitors to the new venue.”

The Islanders tried for many years to secure a new home on Long Island.  Among the efforts was the failed “Lighthouse Project” that would have included a massive transformation of the Nassau Coliseum and there was also the referendum to build a new arena next to the Coliseum that was voted down by Nassau County residents.  At the end of the day, the presence of the Barclays Center actually kept the Islanders in the area while also buying some time for the renovation of the Coliseum (which would lead to the Islanders’ part-time return) and the work it took to make the UBS Arena at Belmont Park a reality.

A year from now, hopefully with the pandemic in our rear-view mirrors, the Islanders will be playing in their brand-new home and there will be thousands of fans flocking to UBS Arena for hockey games, other sporting events and concerts.   Will the Islanders’ new home have an immediate and long-term effect on their former home in Brooklyn?  Time will tell, but it’s certainly a situation worth keeping an eye on.

A rent-a-team no more, the Islanders are set to say “I do” to their new home for a marriage that will last a long time in an arena with a scoreboard that hangs over center ice, 17,000 seats with unobstructed views, and with thousands of happy fans arriving in a way that is convenient for them.

UBS Arena is happening and it’s going to be real and spectacular.

About the Author

Peter Schwartz

Peter covers the Islanders for New York 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. Peter spent 8 years as the radio play by play voice for the New York Dragons of the Arena Football League. He was also the radio play by play announcer for the XFL’s NY/NJ Hitmen in 2001 and the radio play by play announcer for the New York Saints of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League from 1993 to 1996.

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