Thin Ice: The Future of the NY Islanders in Brooklyn

Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

The NY Islanders have been the topic in the sports business news cycle this week with the rumor that their arrangement to play their home games at Barclays Center in Brooklyn is teetering on the brink of fracture. The owner of the Brooklyn Nets also owns the arena and the rumor has it that he wants to eliminate the hockey dates from the arena operations calendar in favor of more concerts.

The theory being that the Barclays Center is an attractive concert venue for musicians and their promoters and that ice hockey at the arena has never worked since this arrangement began last hockey season.

The facility was not made to accommodate hockey when it was planned and designed, so the seating for hockey and the sight lines are terrible. The ice surface itself (see my prior article) is maligned by the players on both the Islanders and other teams as, according to their experience, the worst playing surface in the league.

The reason behind the ice surface issues is because the arena does not have the right pipe system to cool the water enough to maintain the integrity of the ice sheet. The pipe system is PVC plastic and to change it over to the same piping system as other NHL facilities it would require pulling up the entire floor of Barclays Center to retrofit the system, which is cost prohibitive, among other issues it creates.

The combination of poor sight lines, the location of the arena being far from the fan base on Long Island, and the ice surface conditions have caused the Islanders to have one of the worst attendance totals in the NHL. The league has three New York metropolitan area teams, and to have one of those teams suffering from languishing attendance is a big problem that must be addressed.

The new owners of the Islanders bought the team with the intention of keeping them in New York, so according to published reports, the owners and the NHL would only consider relocating the franchise if it was the final option available.

That being stated, what are the options for the Islanders moving forward? The team has three options for a new arena that have been discussed to this point. First, a potential return to Nassau Coliseum where they spent their entire history up until the recent Brooklyn move.

The Nassau County area is where many of their fans reside, and the arena has undergone an extensive renovation project in an effort to attract concerts and other family events. The Coliseum is small after the renovations (about 13,000 seats) and would have to be retrofitted with added seating to come closer to an NHL size venue.

The parties involved in the Coliseum renovation and the local government entities involved in permits and other considerations for that type of expansion to the newly reconfigured arena believe that they can add about two thousand more seats to the seating tiers. The issue with that is it will still be the smallest arena in the NHL and that may not meet with league standards.

The move to Nassau makes a great deal of sense, mostly because the arena is currently there and would need a retrofit compared to the timeline and cost of building a whole new facility. The fan base residing in that general area is a plus too for a team that has struggled in attendance in Brooklyn.

The next option would be the Belmont Park area where the Islanders ownership has interest in some land there and it is a great location for a venue of that type. The main issues with this option are two-fold: time frame and government approvals.

The time frame to develop the land and gain all the government approvals to begin the construction process could take a very long time. The rumor is that the Barclays Center ownership wants to end the contract with the Islanders in two years. The arena would take a much longer time frame to complete.

The third option is for a new arena in Queens next to Citi Field, which could work logistically because there is not much overlap between baseball season and the NHL calendar to be concerned about the complex hosting two events on the same evening. It is an intriguing option for the location and the proximity to Manhattan.

The same downside remains for that option, both time and the resources needed to develop and prepare the site for construction. The other rumor in circulation is that the Islanders could use Madison Square Garden as a temporary home until a new arena is completed.

I heard a radio interview with the Nassau County executive on WFAN this afternoon and it certainly appears that they are ready to get the deal done to get the Islanders back playing at the Coliseum. The support of the municipal government is certainly important in projects of this type.

It will be interesting to see where the Islanders ownership decides to commit to for the future of their franchise in New York. The only clarity in this situation is that the team will not relocate from the greater metropolitan area, that Barclays Center is a failed experiment for all sides involved in the deal, and that another new arena may be added to the area in the near future.

The Islanders at least have a few viable options, they just have to make a decision quickly over which option will provide them the best capability to right the ship from the downward trajectory that the franchise is currently undergoing.