Monday, December 14, 2009

Limited seating capacity, spoken-for suite revenue, Goldman Sachs statement all cast doubt on major league hockey in Brooklyn

So, how could major league hockey fit into the planned Atlantic Yards arena? Michael D.D. White, in his Noticing New York blog, suggests it would be a stretch.

I agree, given a likely low seating capacity that would disadvantage it relative to other arenas with National Hockey League (NHL) teams and a plan in which suite revenue is already spoken for.

Also, the main part of the Barclays Center Project Preliminary Official Statement (POS), prepared by Goldman Sachs, suggests that the arena would host minor league hockey, not major league hockey.

But NHL hockey can't be ruled out. A market analysis included in the POS states that the New York Islanders could potentially move, though the arena would have to be retrofitted for NHL-level ice-making.

The market analysis, curiously enough, does not point to limited seating capacity for hockey in Brooklyn. Still, the Brooklyn arena--even with far fewer seats for hockey than basketball--nonetheless would offer more seats for NHL hockey than current attendance at games for the money-losing Islanders.

Looking at Conseco

Consider that the Barclays Center would look most like Conseco Fieldhouse (below) in Indianapolis and house just about the same number of fans. Conseco was designed by Ellerbe Becket, which is designing the Brooklyn arena, joined by SHoP, the "fa├žade architect"). The new design is just a variation on the original one, above.

Conseco Fieldhouse, which has a capacity of 18,345 for basketball, has hosted minor league hockey but not a team from the National Hockey League. Why not? Many fewer seats for the latter.

According to an 11/23/00 Indianapolis Star article headlined "Hockey in the corn belt: Early reports from Columbus are positive; could the NHL make it in Indianapolis?":
Conseco Fieldhouse would seem to be an obvious home for a hockey team. The [minor league Indiana] Ice will play eight games there this season.

But it seats only about 14,000 for hockey, making it too small for the NHL. When the fieldhouse was built, there were no contingency plans for an NHL team, said Rick Fuson, the arena's director.
The Ice actually play most of their home games at the smaller Pepsi Coliseum, capacity 8200.

Minor league hockey

Perhaps the Brooklyn arena (capacity 18,282 for basketball, according to the POS) could be designed to seat a number larger than 14,000 for hockey, but that's something the Atlantic Yards developer and public parties should tell us.

Right now, they're not claiming it would be fit for the NHL. According to the Barclays Center Project Preliminary Official Statement prepared by Goldman Sachs:
Including the 44 Nets home games the proposed Arena will host annually, it is anticipated the Arena will host approximately 228 total events on an annual basis. It is expected that the Arena will host events such as NCAA college basketball games, boxing matches, minor league hockey, concerts, family shows, award shows, private rentals, community events and other such events.
(Emphasis added)

Capacity in Brooklyn and Long Island

Actually, there's no minimum capacity for NHL arenas--the key is revenue--there are reasons to doubt a 14,000-seat arena for hockey could work in Brooklyn.

Most NHL arenas seat more than 18,282, according to the Edmonton Journal. The smallest NHL arena is on Long Island, at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, with a capacity of 16,234.

Then again, the Islanders have averaged only 10,774 fans per game over the last three seasons, according to the market study attached to the POS. And those Islanders, which have been losing a lot of money, would be the obvious candidate to move to Brooklyn.

(That presumably could be costly, given that the NHL constitution gives each team territorial rights spanning 50 miles and required payments to the Islanders and Rangers, for example, when the Devils came to New Jersey. Newsday reported 10/17/09, "To move to Queens or Brooklyn, the Islanders would need a new agreement on so-called territorial rights, perhaps with a fee paid to the New York Rangers, sources close to the situation confirmed.")

Revenues, not seats

Revenues for a hockey team in Brooklyn would depend on both seating capacity and other revenue streams, such as television rights and luxury suit revenue. But the business model doesn't contemplate a share of the latter.

Consider the business plan for another small arena. A 6/30/07 Winnipeg Free Press article, headlined MTS Centre is small, but 'just right': Chipman, described how the 15,003-seat arena in Winnipeg might not be too small for an NHL team, because, if full, that would make it 24th in the 30-team league.

(There's no minimum capacity in the NHL, according to the article, and many teams inflate their attendance.)

But in Winnipeg there would be only one team owner to reap the suite revenue. In Brooklyn, there's already a plan in place.

According to the Preliminary Official Statement, of $28,087,795 in premium seating revenue expected in the first full year of operations, only $5,028,035 would go to the Nets, with the rest--$23,059,760--going to ArenaCo, the arena developer and operator.

In other words, the big money seems to be locked up already.

Unless prospective Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov wants a hockey team as a vanity project.

Another benchmark

Smaller market NHL teams, which get less television revenue, are eligible for revenue-sharing if they average more than 14,000 in attendance.

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