As a die hard, life long, New York Islanders fan, I’m as anxious as ever to hear some definitive news in regards to the stadium situation. This past decade has been stressful to say the least. We started with Charles Wang’s lighthouse project, the Kate Murray saga, the heartbreaking new coliseum referendum vote, the rumors of moving to Kansas City, the whole thing has been a mess. Then, we finally were able to let out a giant sigh of relief in 2012 when Charles Wang got up on that podium in Brooklyn to announce that the Barclays Center would be the new home of the islanders in 2015 and we’d be keeping our team (relatively) close to home.
Fast forward to 2017 and just 2 seasons into the Barclays Center, here we go again with finding a new home for the Islanders. It’s frustrating that we’re in one of the biggest off seasons in recent history with the expansion draft, the Eberle trade, rumors of acquiring Duchene, Dougie’s first full season as head coach, and of course negotiations to sign our superstar and face of the franchise John Tavares. All the while we have to worry about where we’ll be playing 41 of our games and what arena we’ll be calling home.
So, I’m here to give a brief recap of what we know, what the Isles options are, and some opinion from the High and Tight Isles war room. Let’s go:
We’ll start with Barclays Center. OBVIOUSLY NOT GOING TO WORK. It’s hard to have a home ice advantage when the heart of the fan base can’t even get to the games because they have to take an overpriced, hour plus, rarely operating smoothly train ride to Atlantic Terminal. Also hard to have home ice advantage when the ice is arguably the worst playing surface in the league and not only makes the puck increasingly difficult to control, but poses a safety risk to the players and refs. Then of course we’ve all witnessed the obstructed sight lines, the off-center scoreboard, and the Honda parked right behind the glass. Awesome. Not exactly an ideal place for a professional franchise to play. Luckily, as we know, all signs point to the lease being opted out of and the Isles moving on to a new arena. But where will this new arena be?
First is the least likely option which is in Flushing Queens right next to Citi Field. Us Mets fans know getting the Wilpons to pay for anything is never easy so getting them to help build a new arena for a hockey team they have no stake in will undoubtedly be a tall task. The Mets owners did however just purchase an e-sports team so who know what projects they’ll be investing in next. Always an adventure with our beloved Wilpons.
Anyway, back to Isles and could they be back to the Coliseum? Probably not. As wonderful a return to the old barn (or new barn now) would be, it’s just not likely to happen and here’s why; First, the place only holds 13,000 for hockey which would hold 2,016 less than the NHL’s smallest arena, Winnipeg’s MTS Center. Sure, the front office at NYCB Live says they can add additional seating but they haven’t proven that yet and haven’t even given us any idea at all how many more seats they can add and even if they do add seats that’ll just create the same problems the old coliseum had and we’ll find ourselves right back at square one having the same discussions of is our home arena good enough. Even NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said himself that the NHL does not believe the newly renovated Nassau Coliseum is suitable to host a franchise. Another problem is ownership. We’ve all heard the rumors of disputes between Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment executives Bruce Ratner and Brett Yormark with the Isles front office. It just wouldn’t be reasonable for the Isles to pick up and move out of Brooklyn S&E owned Barclays Center just to make their new home Brooklyn S&E owned Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. And another huge reason is what about Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin? If you own a professional franchise you certainly want to own the building they play in. At the end of the day owning a sports team is a business and the goal of a business is to make money and a huge chunk of revenue is generated by stadium operations so if I’m Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin, I certainly want to own the home of my New York Islanders. I will admit on the bright side however there could be some light shed on the idea when the Isles play the Flyers in their first preseason game of the 2017-18 season on September 17th. The game will almost certainly sell out and tickets prices are reflective of a regular season game so if this experiment is a success then maybe it will spark conversations between Isles ownership and Coliseum ownership to hammer out a deal and make it work, but I still believe the arena just isn’t big enough for an NHL team. And one final note, I’ve heard that Nassau County legislators are working to bring the team back to the Coliseum which is extremely frustrating as an Islanders fan and Nassau County resident. First they are the ones who force the team to move and now they decide they want the team back? Why couldn’t they just keep the team in Nassau in the first place? Then none of this would have ever been an issue and I wouldn’t be writing this blog right now but on we go. So as much as it pains me to say this, especially as someone who grew up driving 10 minutes to the old barn to see my beloved Isles play, I truly don’t believe the Islanders should or will move back to the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
And last but certainly not least, we have the Belmont Park proposal in Elmont, Long Island. Now this plan is still in its earliest stages but it seems to be the one with the highest probability of being the end result. Since there aren’t many details to analyze just yet we’ll take a quick look at the pros and cons of what we do know to this point.
I’ll start with the pros. The first and foremost is the space. Anyone who has been to Belmont Park knows that they have almost as much land available in the form of vacant parking lots as the Coliseum does so there’s no question that an arena could be built there. A brand new arena is certainly the optimal move for the team, ownership, and the fans. We can finally have a new, state of the art arena, designed for hockey, to call home for the foreseeable future. As I discussed before, Ledecky and Malkin would own the building and the majority of the revenue it generates. The fans wouldn’t have to deal with obstructed views, off-centered scoreboards, overcrowded concourses, and long bathroom lines. The team would have safe playing conditions, a crowd size that compares with most new NHL buildings of 20,000 plus, and a building that they can call their own. For many Isles fans, the biggest advantage of the Belmont proposal is the fact that the team would be back on Long Island. Now you’ll have the choice of taking the train to the game or, more likely, simply driving in, parking, setting up a tailgate, just like the good old days.
Now we have to talk about the cons. First of which is building a new arena. If a new arena is built at Belmont, the New York area would have 4 major arenas, 5 if you include the Prudential Center in Newark. If you’re wondering why this is an issue, it’s all about competition. For Madison Square Garden this wouldn’t really be an issue because they still will attract all the top musicians, shows, comedians, etc. But even they still have a vested interest in the Isles new arena which was proven when news came out that Madison Square Garden and New York Rangers owner James Dolan was interested in working with Isles ownership to help them build a new arena. For the Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment group, this means they now could lose events to a new arena which means losses in revenue so they too probably don’t want the Isles building a new arena in the area. The second of the cons is the residents of Elmont. Public hearings for the plan have begun and many residents have expressed their strong opinions (most of which I must admit are fair points) against the proposal to build an arena in their backyards to be the new home of the Islanders. This gives me eerie flashbacks to the 2011 Nassau County referendum vote to build a new Nassau Coliseum. The third “con” is the Empire State Development Committee. These are the people who oversee Belmont park and are essential players in whether or not an arena gets built in the park. Just last year, the Empire State Development Committee turned down a proposal to build a new soccer stadium for the New York Cosmos in Belmont Park. The Cosmos were working with the committee for 4 years trying to get the plan approved but ultimately, they were denied. It could be because of the possibility of the Islanders coming to the park but I don’t want to speculate. All that’s certain is this committee is a hurdle in the way of getting an arena built.
All in all, it appears Belmont Park is the most likely solution to the Islanders arena issues. The wheels definitely seem to be in motion to make it happen and it is confirmed that the Islanders, with the backing of the NHL commissioner’s office, will be submitting a bid to build a new arena at Belmont Park. Now we just have to wait patiently as the process is carried out to see what the result will be. Hopefully, the New York Islanders will be opening the 2021-22 NHL season in their brand new home at Belmont Park on Long Island #beLIeve.