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As the Islanders "Brooklynize," it's different than the Nets

The New York Islanders' first season in Brooklyn begins Friday, 10/9/15, and the move from Long Island has turned out to be different than the Nets' move from New Jersey.

On 9/30/15, the New York Times Sports section unwisely highlighted (right) Islanders’ Opening Night at Barclays Will Blare Familiar for Fans New and Old,  a day after the MTA issued a press release, Islanders Score with the Sound of NYCT Subways.

The Times wrote:
This last dress rehearsal also had a fresh audio touch — a new goal horn straight from the subway.
“When you think about how best to embody what New York City is all about, the subway is one of the first things that comes to mind,” said Kevin Ortiz, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which partnered with Barclays Center on the project."
Despite the effort to highlight transit, there was already a backlash, as noted on Lighthouse HockeySports Illustrated, and a petition.

Others, like this CBS local columnist, suggested Islanders Fans Need To Relax And Stop Complaining and this Post columnist later wrote Get over it, everyone: The Islanders are in Brooklyn now. But the message came through.

Yormark's non-turnabout

After the backlash, Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark--who's in charge of Islanders' marketing and sales, in exchange for a fixed payment to the team--told ESPN that arena operators would back off on the goal horn.

"I'm not acquiescing to the Islanders fans, what I am doing is doing the right thing," Yormark claimed. "And the right thing is welcoming the Islanders fans to Brooklyn, do it the right way, and we feel this is part of that process."

Not acquiescing? Such inability to acknowledge reality is reminiscent of Yormark's turnabout regarding the first Nets home game in 2012, which was full speed ahead even after Superstorm Sandy knocked out public transit, until it wasn't.

No wonder some commenters on Lighthouse Hockey called him smug, condescending, and narcissistic.

As Dan Saraceni wrote on Lighthouse Hockey, Yormark made reasonable points about trying to appeal to a broader universe of potential fans while keeping old fans, but he undermined them by urging them to listeners to buy season tickets. He also noted, "The traditions that people like will float to top and the rest will sink."

A different fan base

While the Nets essentially rebooted a new fan base, the Islanders retain a strong fan base, though that doesn't mean they'll all come to Brooklyn for games. "We wanted to keep every [Nets] fan we could from New Jersey, but the fan base in Jersey wasn't as passionate as the fan base on Long Island," arena COO Fred Mangione told Sports on Earth.

About 30% of ticket buyers are from Long Island, compared to 33% from Brooklyn and Manhattan. Then again, only a quarter of Nassau Coliseum season-ticket holders renewed for Brooklyn, notes Joe DeLessio of Sports on Earth, countering some of the arena spin..

Mangione, interestingly enough, said the arena is stressing parking: "That Long Islander that's used to driving, there's over 3,000 spaces on the perimeter of the arena that the fan base also didn't realize, and when they received their literature and their season tickets and they saw all the layouts, they realized that they have the option to do that as well."

Note that, as Nets fans have discovered, there's lots of free parking too, thus frustrating residents. After all, parking in lots is $20 to $40 per vehicle, more for SUVs.

The alternate jersey

The marketing phrase is "Tradition has a new home."

As Yormark told the Times before the horn flap, “Probably our biggest mistake was thinking I could overly Brooklynize the team,” Yormark said. “Fans were very outspoken about not changing the primary jersey — home and away. After hearing from all the fans we decided, no, we can’t touch that. That’s sacred ground.”

But they could partly "Brooklynize." So there will be a third, and alternate jersey, in black-and-white, to be worn at 12 home games. It comes with a "presenting sponsor": Modell's.

"It has nothing to do with the Nets," Yormark claimed on ESPN. "The colors of the borough are black and white. We need to connect and cement this team in Brooklyn in a couple of ways."

Um, as numerous commenters have pointed out, those are the marketing colors of the Nets. As one commenter on Lighthouse Hockey put it, "Uhh, blue and gold are the borough’s colors and nobody associated black and white with Brooklyn until the Nets moved there."

From Brooklyn Borough President
(Interestingly, the Daily News's Bob Raissman complained that ESPN's Michael Kay was far tougher on Yormark than he is on Madison Square Garden officials, whose teams, the Knicks and Rangers, are broadcast on ESPN. That may be so, but I'd say that most sports journalists are too easy on their subjects, including Yormark.)

There's also a much tougher fan based; as DeLessio pointed out, there's a Twitter feed "devoted to picking out the worst of the worst comments from the team's official Facebook page."

Other issues

According to the news coverage of Islanders' pre-season games, fans appreciate the nicer, newer Barclays Center facilities, some miss tailgating, and many are willing to take the Long Island Rail Road to Barclays. Players will drive, take the train, or take a car service, and stay in a hotel after practice before a night game.

As noted on Lighthouse Hockey, the full pricing on exhibition games kept attendance down.

Hundreds of seats have obstructed views, though they have lower prices. The Wall Street Journal, assessing The Good Views and Bad Views About Barclays Center, suggests there are both.

As for the off-center scoreboard in an arena built for basketball, well, Mangione told Sports on Earth that decision was above his pay grade.

As the Times reported:
The longtime Nassau Coliseum organist Paul Cartier is closer to the ice at Barclays than he was on Long Island, but he cannot see the net below him from his keyboard. He has to look at the giant scoreboard screen above the ice.
When Cartier is not playing the welcome tones on his Lowrey Sensation organ, loud pop music blares at every other stoppage of play, even though Yormark speaks of “toning down” the cacophony of the N.B.A. game experience.
Sparky the Dragon, the popular furry mascot at Nassau Coliseum, did not make the transition to Brooklyn. Neither did the skating Ice Girls. Both were longtime staples.
But plenty of elements from Long Island will be present in Brooklyn. Four Stanley Cup banners are already hanging in the arena
There's a bit more to that. As Daniel Friedman wrote on CBS New York, "It took severe fan backlash to get all of the division and conference championship banners in the Barclays rafters."

New promotional efforts

The Barclays Center, as noted on Lighthouse Hockey (drawing on Sports Business Daily), aims to infuse some "Brooklyn coolness" into the brand. Then again, Yormark says he recognizes that thye "NBA is very much also about entertainment," while "the hockey fans are a little bit more of a traditional fan."

The Islanders have 29 new partnerships, whatever that means: NYCB, BlueRock Energy, Justworks, Modell’s Sporting Goods, Geico, Professional Physical Therapy, MillerCoors, Viber, American Express, NY Lottery, P.C. Richard & Son, TGI, Bob’s Discount Furniture, Baked in Brooklyn, Honda, Northshore LIJ, Maimonides Medical Center, Haworth, ctms, MSC, Industrial Supply Co., Lifestyle Sports Group, NAM, Imperial Bag & Paper Co., LLC, Pepsi, Las Vegas Tourism, OK Petroleum, and Ridgewood Savings Bank.

The Islanders don't yet have a pro shop in Brooklyn, with two listed on Long Island.

Reported the Sporting News in February:
Russians love ice hockey, so the Islanders will target the large Russian immigrant community in Brooklyn's Brighton Beach.

“We haven’t done well tapping into that Brighton Beach community. We think hockey can be a great catalyst for that,” Yormark said.
OK. Remember how in 2009 Russian-American Assemblymember Alec Brook-Krasny asserted the sale of a majority of the Nets to Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov would, in the Courier-Life's paraphrase, "probably trigger a big explosion in the local Russian media resulting in more Russian-Americans going to Nets games." 

Or how Yormark in 2013 claimed that Russian hoopster Andrei Kirilenko--who wound up injured and has since departed-- "the best advertising for Brooklyn in Brighton Beach."

New advertising location?

And what about the photo below, from the Wall Street Journal? It's the first time I've seen the green roof of the transit entrance covered with advertising. Is that permitted? (I'll ask.) It doesn't comport with the project Design Guidelines since an independent transit entrance and plaza were never contemplated.

And what does that say about the potential for the arena green roof to be covered in advertising at some point, just as the arena roof once boasted the Barclays logo, despite no explicit permission?

Brooklyn Historical Society

A new exhibit

There's also an exhibit at the Brooklyn Historical Society about hockey in Brooklyn, which begins in 1925: “Brooklyn Americans: Hockey’s Forgotten Promise." The guy behind the exhibit is lawyer and former Andrew Cuomo aide Steve Cohen.

“With the Islanders coming to the Barclays Center, it is the right time to tell a story most people have never heard before,” the BHS's Marcia Ely told the Brooklyn Paper. “And this is a great family-friendly exhibit to experience before catching an Islanders game.”

The Brooklyn Historical Society also managed an exhibition about sports in Brooklyn at the time the Nets opened.


  1. Anonymous11:34 PM

    So sad to see Brooklyn Historical Society roped into the Barclays mess.


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