Fall is in the air, and with it comes my favorite pastime, the NHL season!
For me personally, the New York Islanders have always been my go-to form of entertainment, and there has been so much more talk about this upcoming season for the boys than there has been in many years. From the move to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn from the Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum to the recent trades made in the offseason, the Islanders seems poised to continue with last year’s momentum, and expectations are higher than they have been in a while.
But even with all of the positive news surrounding the historic franchise, there is an uneasiness amongst the fans that has reached the point of a civil war-type frenzy, and the opinions are strong on both sides.
The infighting comes as the Islanders prepare to take the ice for the first time in Brooklyn, their new home after nearly 45 years at the Coliseum. The old “Barn” as it’s affectionately known was home to the famed Islander teams that once owned the hockey world by winning four Stanley Cups in a row, from 1980-1984, but after the Cups moved on, so did many of the fans. The team went from the top of the world to something close to mediocrity when things were going real good.
And it wasn’t just the fans who started to leave the team, the media did, too. In essence, there wasn’t much going for the Islanders for quite some time. The team was almost sold, but that fell through and with it went the hope of the franchise. The fans who were used to winning had a hard time coping with losing, and like all New York-market sports teams, everyone wanted a quick fix, something that is just not possible in the modern-day sports world.
In 2000, Charles Wang became part owner of the team, and by 2004, he took control. There was once again a reason to believe that the franchise was headed in the right direction, but becoming competitive was not in the cards for the Isles. Attendance dipped to dismal numbers, and the Coliseum building was literally falling apart. Mr. Wang realized that something had to be done. He became the master developer of The Lighthouse Project, a property transformation of the Nassau Coliseum and its surrounding 150 acres. The project was to include a five-star hotel, condominiums, an athletic complex featuring four ice rinks, a basketball facility and a state-of-the-art health club that would have served as the Islanders’ practice facility and would have been open to the public. The development would have also included a sports technology center, open-air plaza and conference center. It could have been the boost both the Islanders and the failing Coliseum needed, but the township disagreed.
The project was deemed to be too large by Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray, who made a counter-proposal that was about half the size of what Wang had originally intended. Wang decided to try to finance the building of a new arena for the Islanders with public funds rather than paying for it himself as part of the Lighthouse Project. In May 2011, Wang, along with Nassau County, started an 82-day campaign for a $400 million bond to fund a new arena for the Islanders. On Aug. 1 of that year, the proposal was defeated by a margin of 57 percent to 43 percent.
By the time the Islanders left the old Barn at the end of the 2015 season, it was the second-oldest arena in the league. Nostalgia and a newfound formula for success brought a lot of the old fans back for one last glimpse of a once-praised franchise in their original home, but by then, it was too late. The Islanders were moving to Brooklyn. Here is where things get tricky for the team and its fans, though.
Up until last season, you could literally walk up to the ticket booth at the Coliseum on the night of any game of your choosing and get a ticket — and tickets were cheap, as in really cheep. The fans who attended the games became spoiled, and the days of $10 tickets in Brooklyn are not likely to ever be available like they once were in Nassau County. So ticket prices immediately became an issue.
There are also the complaints of traveling to the new arena, lots and lots of complaints. But, to put it in perspective, the Barclays Center is less than 30 miles away from the Coliseum, and there is far more public transportation to it. In fact, having spent many hours on subways, railroads and taxis to the old Barn from New York City, I know firsthand there was virtually no easy mode of public transportation to the Coliseum!
Finally, the most recent bitching from fans has come with the reveal of the Islanders new third jersey, a uniform the team will hardly ever wear. The new sweaters are black and silver, which are the same colors as the New York Nets’ NBA team that also calls the Barclays Center home, as opposed to orange, blue and white, which has been the Islanders’ colors since their first season in the league back in 1972.
So are these new complaints valid?
On all counts, no! The Nassau Coliseum was a building that was in ruins and a nightmare to get to. The town voted against rectifying the situation and therefore voted against the Islanders. The decision to move wasn’t a team decision, it was a township decision. No one really cared about the team when it was losing, but as soon as there was a taste of success, its leaving became a major issue for a lot of people.
As far as ticket prices go, I have paid more to see AHL teams play than the Islanders after the fall of their dynasty. Everyone wants a good deal, but the decline in ticket prices and attendance was a testament to the lack of respect people had for the team. This is a professional hockey team and should be charging accordingly — even if that is not what we fans may want to hear.
Now as far as the jersey colors go, it would be a shame if the blue and orange went away, but from a marketing standpoint, it does make sense. Brooklyn is following in the steps of Pittsburgh, where all of the city’s teams are black and gold. The pride in that town during any sporting event is overwhelming, as the streets are covered in black and gold. Since the Islanders showed up late to the party, I understand why they may have to conform to the Nets’ colors, but when all is said and done, one day maybe one set of colors will cover all of the areas teams, making it a lot easier for fans.
It is sad that the Islanders have left Nassau County, and the memories of the Coliseum will always be fond ones for me, a lifelong fan, but the team deserves to be treated as a professional franchise, and if they weren’t going to get it from their original home, at least they can get it close by.
For those who want to abandon the team because of these changes, I bid you farewell. You and your negativity will not be missed. Progress is what keeps the world moving forward, and the Islanders deserve the respect it is finally getting again.
The New York Islanders will kick off the 2015-2016 season Friday, Oct. 9 at 7:30 p.m. in Brooklyn against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Tom Roarty is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.