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Islanders to the Barclays Center: Wang won't rule out move before 2015; Bettman claims configuration works (but take a look); Wang says decision made before arena even opened

Markowitz at the podium; note the Islanders backdrop;
Photo by Kathryn Kirk
As has been widely reported (links), the New York Islanders hockey team, stuck in the Nassau Coliseum with no new arena in sight after voters turned it down (a referendum unavailable in Brooklyn), have signed a 25-year lease beginning in 2015 to move to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn--a move cemented, we learned today, before the arena began operations.

The move, which might happen before 2015 if the Nassau lease is broken, keeps the team in the New York area, stressed owner Charles Wang in a press conference at the arena.

It's clearly is a boon to the Barclays Center, which now has a second major tenant to fill seats, especially since some first-year events, like the Barbra Streisand concerts, will hardly be perennials.

The Barclays Center--downsized from 850,000 square feet to 675,000 to focus on basketball--was distinctly not built for major league hockey, with developer Forest City Ratner admittedly sacrificing what they thought was the option for an NHL team (despite subsequent claims it would be fine). But Forest City lucked out, just as the developer has benefited by the premium attached to "Brooklyn."

Graphic from Barclays Center newsletter
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman brushed off--perhaps too quickly--concerns about the fan experience. Unmentioned, at least at the main press conference, was the likelihood that the team's lucrative TV contract was key to remaining in New York rather than move to locations like Kansas City or Quebec.

The move represents new revenue for the arena and area businesses, likely an increase in hiring at the arena, and new challenges regarding community impacts.

After all, though many Long Islanders can and will take the train to Atlantic Terminal, the Islanders' fan base is used to driving, as noted by the Wall Street Journal, though MTA chair Joe Lhota notes that lots of people take the train to Madison Square Garden. The MTA promised extra game-night service.

Moreover, the only post-opening study of arena traffic is scheduled for next year, before the Islanders arrive. Perhaps that will change.

The larger impacts

“Today is another great day for Brooklyn,” asserted Borough President Marty Markowitz. “When I first campaigned for borough president, I made the promise that I would bring a major league sports team to Brooklyn. But never, in my wildest dreams, did I think we would be home to both the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Islanders. It won’t be a long journey for the Islanders; after all, Brooklyn is where Long Island begins, and Nassau County is just a short Zamboni ride away from the big stage of Brooklyn and the Barclays Center. With the Nets and the Islanders, Brooklyn is beginning a dominant power play.”

“I am always happy when a New York team decides to stay in New York," Council Member Letitia James said in a statement. "My hopes are that this will mean more jobs and services for the community. My long time concerns with the Barclays Arena and Atlantic Yards project continue to remain, living wage jobs, affordable housing and quality of life. I look forward to reviewing this deal with my colleagues." But I don't think she'll get to review much.

(Also see my coverage of Mayor Mike Bloomberg's dismissal of a question about the Atlantic Yards Project's unfulfilled promises.)

Field of Schemes' Neil deMause wrote:
If there’s a lesson here, it’s that while most stadiums and arenas aren’t cash cows once you take construction costs into account, and most team owners’ goal is to be the primary tenant in their own arena, not all buildings — and markets — are created equal, and things can work very differently when a market the size of New York City is involved.
Which, of course, raises the question of whether New York City and state should have driven a harder bargain about getting the Barclays Center built in the first place, now that it turns out that teams need Brooklyn more than Brooklyn needs teams. I’d ask Mayor Bloomberg, but he’s already left the building…
Breaking the Nassau Coliseum lease?

And the move may come before 2015, actually. Is there any possibility the Islanders could break their lease at Nassau Coliseum right now or any time before the official time for the move, Wang was asked.

He hedged: "I have said consistently that we are going to honor our lease. Obviously, anything can happen, in terms of breaking lease, or whatever it is. But we are committed to finishing in 2015. The 2015-16 season will be our first season here."

Is arena big enough?

The arena, one questioner pointed out, is quite small for major league hockey: "Is there any way to add more seats?"

"Total capacity is officially listed for hockey right now as 14,5[00]," Bettman responded. "Bruce [Ranter] and Charles [Wang] and [arena CEO] Brett [Yormark] have discussed, at one end, adding some more seats. We expect the capacity to about 15, 15-plus. If you keep in mind that Winnipeg is doing quite well, in a building about the same size, and the fact that Nassau Coliseum is 16,200, the thousand seats we don't think makes a material difference. And in fact, if you walk the concourses and see the bowl, the intimacy of this building is going to make watching hockey here a terrific experience. That's a longwinded way of saying it's not an issue."

Lighthouse Hockey noted that Bettman "didn't sound like that several months ago, but of course that was in leverage mode." In Grantland, Katie Baker wrote:
Today Bettman (who in April had coolly responded to the idea of a move to Brooklyn with a withering "Barclays, I suppose, on some level, is an option") brushed off questions about the configuration, pointing to the success of the 15,004-person arena in Winnipeg.
One commenter pointed out that the total number of seats was far less important for revenue purposes than the luxury suites (and, I'd add, sponsorships). Indeed, a New York Times report suggests the Islanders can earn "$54 million from suites and premium seats — $35 million more per year than what the Islanders generate at the Coliseum."

In Sports Illustrated, Stu Hackel warned that, in Winnipeg, which Bettman invoked, ticket prices are the second-highest in the league, and Islanders fans may face sticker shock. Beyond that, he noted, Wang will be a tenant and have to raise enough money to keep free agents.

Will layout work?

SBNation NHL Editor Travis Hughes wrote, Islanders moving to Brooklyn, but will hockey work at Barclays Center?:
As great and as technologically advanced it may be, Barclays Center might just be an awful place to watch a hockey game.... A NHL-sized ice rink simply does not fit on the floor at Barclays Center without removing a ton of seats.
Hughes pointed to the seating chart for the preseason game that was canceled:
Click to enlarge if you must, but you can probably already imagine how awkward this place is going to be with a hockey rink inside. The center-hung scoreboard won't be center-hung at all; instead, it'll hang closer to the blueline. In upper bowl sections 203, 204, 228 and 229, there will be an obstructed view of the ice.
This seating chart doesn't even have the option for seats to be sold in sections 201, 202, 230 or 232. Nine of the 24 lower bowl sections will be unavailable, although a different seating chart on the Barclays Center website does look at least slightly better, with options for seating in all 24 lower bowl sections and tickets available in all upper bowl sections as well. Doesn't seem like they've solved the obstructed view problem in some of these spots, however.
New York magazine's Joe DeLessio wrote:
Perhaps there will be changes to the arena over the next three years to correct some of the issues evident in that seating chart (and in these photos), but unless they're significant, one wonders how the Islanders will ever been seen as anything other than second-class citizens in their own building when the configuration itself is a constant reminder that the building was designed for basketball and not hockey. You know why Barclays Center execs talked up the building as a viable destination for a hockey team? Because they had to. The building sells itself in so many other ways, but it doesn't here.

Will Wang maintain 100% ownership of the team? Yes, he said, dispelling rumors of a Ratner investment.

Why'd he make the decision prior to Nassau County pursuing a new development plan that could include an arena? "There comes a point where you have to make a decision, because there's not enough time to build a new arena," Wang responded.

How long did the process take? "All kidding aside, Bruce and I met six, seven years ago... he was in the process of trying to get the approval to build the Barclays Center," Wang said, while he was trying to get the Lighthouse Project in Nassau off the ground.

"This process, specifically, in Brooklyn, is probably about seven months, when we started, in earnest, talking about it," Wang stated.

The name will remain the same, and won't change to "Brooklyn Islanders," he confirmed.

Is the 25-year lease an ironclad commitment, or is there an option to leave? "The lease that is signed is ironclad," Wang confirmed.

At about 4:10 in the video above, Joe Berger of the New York Times asked, "Did you wait to see the opening of the arena... was that a factor?"

"Eight or nine months ago," Wang responded, "even with the original drawings, we were so impressed were the effort that was being put forth and the investment that Bruce was making into this arena--".

Why didn't they announce it earlier? "We can't unwind the clock," Wang continued. "It is what it is. We did the best we can. We came to this wonderful conclusion."

Was Nassau County executive Ed Mangano blindsided? "I did tell him, he was surprised, very disappointed," Wang responded. "We've come with a solution that really benefits the Islanders fans. What we're trying to do was stay in New York. We're very happy with the decision we made."

Video: the press conference:

With Charles Wang, Bruce Ratner, Mike Bloomberg, Marty Markowitz, Gary Bettman. Islanders GM Garth Snow, and arena CEO Brett Yormark.

The press release


First NHL Team to Play Home Games in Brooklyn

BROOKLYN, NY (October 24, 2012) -- New York Islanders Owner Charles B. Wang, Barclays Center Majority Owner and Developer Bruce Ratner, and Onexim Sports and Entertainment announced today that the Islanders will move to Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The 25-year agreement begins for the 2015-16 season.

The announcement was made at a press conference in the GEICO Atrium at Barclays Center, which was also attended by New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Islanders General Manager Garth Snow, and Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark.
In support of the illustrious history of the team, the New York Islanders name and logo will remain unchanged.

"It was our goal from day one to keep the Islanders in the local New York area." Wang said.  "We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to play in Barclays Center, a first class arena.  This has been a long journey for the Islanders family starting with our loyal fans, sponsors, and employees.  I want to personally thank them for their patience, loyalty, and support.  I am excited about today’s announcement and I am looking forward to a long and successful future in Brooklyn." 

“We are delighted to welcome the Islanders to Brooklyn and to bring NHL hockey to the borough for the first time,” Ratner said. “Eleven subway lines and the Long Island Rail Road come directly to Barclays Center at Atlantic Terminal, offering great accessibility for current and future Islander fans. I want to thank Charles for his determination in keeping the team in New York and for having the vision to bring his club to Brooklyn.”

“More than ever before, Brooklyn is the place where everyone wants to be,” Mayor Bloomberg said. “Barclays Center has already brought an incredible amount of excitement to Brooklyn since opening last month. Now things will get even more interesting, with Brooklyn’s first-ever NHL franchise. Whether or not you’re a hockey fan, more events at Barclays Center will lead to more economic activity and more jobs, and that’s good news for all New Yorkers.”

“Today is another great day for Brooklyn,” said BP Markowitz. “When I first campaigned for borough president, I made the promise that I would bring a major league sports team to Brooklyn.  But never, in my wildest dreams, did I think we would be home to both the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Islanders. It won’t be a long journey for the Islanders; after all, Brooklyn is where Long Island begins, and Nassau County is just a short Zamboni ride away from the big stage of Brooklyn and the Barclays Center. With the Nets and the Islanders, Brooklyn is beginning a dominant power play.”

“The Brooklyn Nets are excited to welcome the Islanders to Barclays Center and Brooklyn!” Yormark said. “Barclays Center will offer the Islanders with an exciting opportunity to grow their fan base and to build their brand. Islander fans are going to love Barclays Center for its intimacy, sightlines, Brooklyn Taste culinary program, and customer service. We are looking forward to opening our doors for the Islanders and bringing the best in sports and entertainment to Brooklyn.”

Barclays Center will hold 14,500 seats for Islander games. Current Islander season ticket holders will have first rights to purchase season tickets in Brooklyn.