Written by Cory Twibell Monday, 05 November 2012 17:14
A press conference was held two days later, except Mangano wasn’t there; the New York Islanders organized a press conference at 620 Atlantic Ave. in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center, the franchise’s new rink as of 2015.
Founded in 1972, the New York Islanders have called the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum home for 40 years. The organization brought the Stanley Cup to Long Island four times in four consecutive seasons in the early 1980s. The team’s current lease at the Coliseum expires in 2015, and until then, team owner Charles Wang said he intends to keep the Islanders in Uniondale and honor the existing lease. Wang said the recently signed Barclays Center agreement is an “iron-clad” 25-year lease.
“We have tried very hard to keep the Islanders in their original home,” Wang said, adding, “I want to specifically thank Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and his team for their help trying to find a solution to keep the Islanders there. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that.”
Wang noted that he will remain the sole owner of the franchise and its team name, logo and colors will not change.
“We have come up with a solution that really benefits the Islander fans and what we are trying to do. We are staying in New York and are very happy with the decision we made,” Wang said.
Over the past several years, elected officials in Nassau County, the Town of Hempstead, the Islanders ownership and local residents failed to reach a compromise on possible renovations to the Nassau Coliseum or methods to fund a new complex.
“This is a sad day for Nassau County and unfortunately another crippling hit to our local economy. We must immediately start working on new ideas for the Hub so that the Coliseum does not sit as a crumbling eyesore for generations,” said Nassau County Democratic Leader Kevan Abrahams, who called the 2015 relocation “an epic failure of leadership at all levels.”
Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, who Wang said was “surprised and obviously very disappointed” with the news, was planning (as of press time) to announce the selection of an economic development team to re-energize the Hub/Mitchel Field area.
“The Nassau County Hub is home to the most promising job-creating opportunities in the nation. It is my intention to ensure that the taxpayers of Nassau County benefit from the economic redevelopment of 77 acres of land that sit within the most dynamic county in the nation,” Mangano said.
According to National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman, the Barclays Center’s capacity is officially listed for hockey at 14,500, which will be the smallest in the league behind the 15,004 seats in the Winnipeg Jets’ MTS Centre, which sold out every home game last season.
The Nassau Coliseum’s average attendance last season was 13,191, according to ESPN.com, while the arena’s capacity is 16,200, Bettman noted. The commissioner explained that the Barclays Center could likely accommodate an additional 500 seats by the time the Islanders drop the puck on Brooklyn ice in 2015.
“Winnipeg is doing quite well in a building [of similar capacity]. The intimacy of this building is going to make watching hockey a terrific experience,” Bettman said.
Chris Botta, a former public relations executive with the Islanders, said on Mike Lupica’s ESPN Radio show that Brooklyn represents the end of an era for Islanders fans here in Nassau County.
“The Islanders are all but done … with Nassau County, which is obviously a very, very sad day for fans, especially in that area. The good news for fans is that this could’ve been a lot worse. At least instead of taking a plane to go see the team, they could take a train,” Botta said.
Before the Oct. 24 announcement, rumors of possible destinations for the Islanders included Kansas City, Seattle and Ontario, Canada.
“The benefits of making this move are so tremendous, not just for Brooklyn, but for the team. They absolutely cannot care how many seats there are in the place,” said Lupica.
While Wang proudly stepped up to the microphone at the Barclays Center on Oct. 24, that Wednesday marked an otherwise somber date – the 39th day of the current lockout for Wang’s Islanders and the nearly 700 players from the other 29 teams around the league.
The National Hockey League Players Association union and the league’s previous collective bargaining agreement, which had been ratified in 2005 following the loss of the entire 2004 season, expired Sept. 15 and a new agreement hasn’t been reached since then, resulting in the owners locking out their players.
Both sides have met on several occasions but Commissioner Bettman said the two parties are still far apart on a new deal, which will eventually decide how revenue is split between the players and owners, certain free agency restrictions, the honoring of existing contracts and a handful of other issues.
“The union has chosen not to engage on our proposal or to make a new proposal of their own. So unfortunately it looks like the 82-game season is not going to be a reality. Things seem to be not progressing as we’d like and it’s disappointing,” Bettman said.
The ongoing battle between the players’ union and the league has received steady coverage in the media, as players have taken to social media to vent their frustrations.
“I keep hearing that both sides have to give in a negotiation. What has the NHL given the players so far? Nothing, only asking for more,” Montreal Canadiens forward Lars Eller said on his Twitter page.
Islanders’ forward Michael Grabner went beyond the 140-character limit of Twitter and created his own blog to express his thoughts on the situation.
“There are some players who went through the last lockout and made big concessions to the owners and now they are back looking for more. The owners got the deal they wanted in 2005 so should the players have to give back more to them again? On top of that, there have been seven straight years of record revenues for the NHL. What are the odds that in four to seven years or however long the next CBA will be, they are going to ask for money back again?” Grabner said.
Islander fan Nicole Kingston, 25, of Mineola, has been attending games since she was 7 years old and is one of few fans with team experience on both a professional and personal level.
“My initial reaction was a combination of relief and excitement. Having worked for the Lighthouse Project and followed the entire Coliseum issue very closely for such a long time, I knew that Nassau County was not a realistic option anymore for the team.
“I think real Islander fans understand the situation the team was unfortunately forced into because of the politics in Nassau County and know that this is the best option for their future. We haven’t stopped supporting the team through all the rough years, and we definitely won’t stop now,” said Kingston, whose father plans on renewing his season tickets in 2015.
While local fans living close to the Nassau Coliseum will have a longer commute to games in 2015, the distance will be even greater for the Suffolk County fan contingent.
“I think the small percentage of fans in Suffolk who will find it difficult to commute to Brooklyn will be outweighed by fans who will be able to get to Barclays via mass transit, those who work in the city and new fans who will want to see hockey in a new arena. A standalone arena in the middle of the suburbs not accessible by mass transit is not economically viable anymore,” Kingston said.
Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, who follows hockey, said he was disappointed in Wang’s decision but believes the county must move forward in seeking a new plan for the Hub to avoid any potential negative economic impact.
“For too long, the Veterans Coliseum has languished and Nassau County has not realized its full potential. The Islanders leaving is a direct result of past failures to build a state-of-the-art sports and entertainment center.
“The economic impact to Nassau County, however, will be marginal if the proper steps are taken to ensure the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum seats are filled in 2015 as they were during the 2004 NHL lockout and during the current NHL lockout. In 2004 the Islander games were replaced with concerts and other events without economic loss to the county,” Maragos said.