Friday, July 22, 2016

Are Islanders considering a new arena in Queens? Leverage for Barclays improvements is more likely

So, consider this thinly-sourced Bloomberg News report yesterday, NHL’s Islanders Are Considering a Move to Queens With Mets Help:
The New York Islanders are in talks with the owners of baseball’s New York Mets about building a hockey arena adjacent to Citi Field in Queens, people with knowledge of the discussions said.
Willets Point is emerging as a persuasive alternative to the team’s current home at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center if the Islanders’s owners and arena officials can’t agree on a series of hockey-specific improvements, said the people, who asked for anonymity because the negotiations are private.
...The prospective arena at Willets Point, also the home of the National Tennis Center where the the U.S. Open is played, would put the team closer to its original fan base in Long Island.
Well, sure, it would put the team closer to the fan base, at least for people driving.

But there's only one subway, the 7 train, and the Mets-Willets Point station on the Long Island Railroad connects only to the Port Washington line.

Moreover, an arena costs a lot of money to build, which means seats wouldn't be nearly as cheap as the former Nassau Coliseum, and one-sport arenas are at a disadvantage in filling seats around the year.

So, despite derivative stories with unskeptical headlines like the New York Times's Islanders May Build Hockey Arena in Queens With Mets’ Help, I have to agree with Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy, who suggested the statement was about leverage in getting renovations at Barclays.

(Ditto for a rumored move to Elmont, an option floated in the Post.)

As Newsday reported:
Barclays Center spokesman Barry Baum said, “Last week Jon Ledecky told the media and later fans at a town hall event that ‘Barclays is our home.’ If you have any further questions, please call Islanders’ ownership.”
Last week's statements

Indeed, as numerous press outlets reported last week, Ledecky did reaffirm Barclays as their home, though he did cite challenges and said hoped for more improvements in the fan experience.

“There were challenges last year,” he said, according to Newsday. “I would be lying to you if I said there wasn’t. Does that mean you blow up Barclays Center and leave? No. You try to improve the home you have.”

Indeed, Ledecky may be using the five-year opt-out option in the Islanders' contract to get Barclays renovated sufficiently to host a NHL All-Star game. 

Barclays apparently needs hockey upgrades. Here's part of a transcript of his remarks, according to Neil Best of Newsday:
“Then I think Montreal, the citadel of hockey. To go there at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and they have 20 people squeegeeing the boards, the glass. That was one of my big things from folks taking premium seats [at Barclays].
“They said, ‘Jon, I can’t see through the glass.’ I finally went to Brett and said, ‘I’m sorry, each pane of glass is $750. You need to buy new panes of glass and when I get that complaint you have to fix that. That’s our stockholder.’
Ledecky did praise Barclays for improving the video and improving the ice.

No Islanders games at Coliseum?

The real headline, as Newsday reported, was Jon Ledecky won’t commit to Islanders games at new Coliseum:
The 2013 lease between Nassau County and Nassau Events Center, the entity formed by developer Bruce Ratner to renovate the Coliseum, included a clause that called for the Islanders to play six games per season at their former home.
But since then Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the Brooklyn Nets, purchased an 85-percent stake in Nassau Events Center and Ledecky and childhood friend Scott Malkin bought a controlling interest in the Islanders from Charles Wang.
In other words, there new people in charge. So it depends on the enforceability of the lease, or whether Nassau Events Center will simply pay an annual penalty of at least $1 million.

As I reported in April 2015, Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark expressed near-certainty about the six-game stint when speaking at a 9/23/13 Nassau Legislature hearing, saying he expected the commitment "over the next couple of months"--though we now know that process could not launch until the Coliseum gets renovated.

Newsday also reported that Ledecky does not plan to move the Islanders’ minor-league affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, to the Coliseum, though the Coliseum lease requires an American Hockey Leaggue tenant.

As I wrote in a 5/21/15 Newsday essay, Nassau must be wary about plans for Coliseum.

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