The Islanders have long been rumored to be looking for their own arena to play hockey. Citi Field, Belmont Park, and even the Coliseum have been floated. Today, Bloomberg News dropped a bombshell; the feeling is mutual; if the Islanders don’t leave on their own, Barclays will push them out.
According to a report on Bloomberg.com, Barclays can make more money on other events, and would gladly send the Islanders packing after the 2018-19 season.
This Brooklyn move has not worked out for anyone, for a number of reasons.
First, the commute from most places on Long Island is just too far. It’s great that you can get there by train, but while geographically Long Island, Brooklyn is part of NYC. You have to get off at Jamaica and switch trains, and it’s a huge hassle. Plus, fans want a place to gather and tailgate before the game. The arena is in a nice, up and coming neighborhood, but they really don’t know what to expect out of hockey fans. I spoke to the owner of one of the restaurants near the arena, Larry, from BK9. He told me that the basketball crowd is peaceful, not very excited. However, the hockey crowd is a totally different thing. They come in to the restaurant ready to go, pumping fists, cheering, filled with excitement. It’s just a different feeling.
Secondly, the Islanders have always represented the suburbs. The Rangers were NYC’s team, the Islanders had Long Island, and that worked for everyone. Although the Isles advanced to the second round for the first time in 23 years while playing at Barclays, and the crowd was definitely loud, it just wasn’t the same as if it happened in the Coliseum. There just was a different vibe to the place. Almost as if something was missing.
Which leads me to the next issue…the arena itself. Barcalys is not, was not, and never will be suited for hockey. The scoreboard is not truly centered, the ice is consistently sub-par, there are places in the corners where you have no seats, and there are numerous obstructed view seats. The arena was retrofitted for hockey, and it just doesn’t really work well. On top of that, Barclays has made very little attempt to add much blue and orange to the black and white colors of the arena. This is the Nets’ arena, and Isles fans basically have never been able to forget that. Isles fans never have felt truly at home at Barclays, especially after the feeling out process that went on last year between fans and security.
Make no mistake, Barclays Center is a beautiful facility…for Ariana Grande, not for hockey.
So, now what? Well, the whole reason Barclays would want to exercise their out clause is because they are paying the Isles $53M a year to play there. That’s simply not feasible. The Isles need a situation where fans could drive or take the train, and they could get their hands on some of the concession and parking money.
There’s really only two viable options: Citi Field or Belmont Park. The chances of the Islanders returning to the Coliseum are highly unlikely.
The arena is only set to hold around 13,000 people, and many of the same money making issues that drove the Isles out still remain.
Whether it’s Citi Field or Belmont Park, it’s going to be a while before anything happens. Everyone knows how things work politically on Long Island. Whether it be a proposed mall in Syosset, the Lighthouse project, or even getting money to repair a crumbling infrastructure, red tape runs rampant here. That alone would make the Belmont Park project dicey to say the least.
That leads us to Willets Point/Citi Field. There is ample parking at the site. You have several years to come up with solutions for when both teams are playing. From NYC you can take the 7 train right to the arena. From Long Island, you can hop on the LIRR and get off at the Willets Point station. All the mass transit is there already. The area is surrounded by highways on three sides.
There are some great plans in development at the site, and a hockey arena is also possibly in the plans. There’s one issue with it. The developers want to build a mall. The local community does not want one. So, they too are tied up in a legal battle.
Newsday’s Art Staple brought up the idea of having the Islanders play at the Garden for a year while an arena is being built. Islanders and Rangers sharing an arena? It worked for the Yankees and Mets in the mid 70s…why not now?
One thing looks pretty sure, the Islanders will likely be saying goodbye, Brooklyn in, or even before, June 2019. Where they go next however, is one of life’s great mysteries.