Islanders at Barclays Center: Where terrible seats meet good intentions

Puck Daddy

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – I have no idea what the hell I’m watching.

I’m sitting in the first row of Section 201, in Seat 26, as the New York Islanders host the Carolina Hurricanes on a Thursday night in October. It’s their seventh home game since moving from the dilapidated Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale to the divisive Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and a small but engaged crowd is watching the action. 

Or, in the case of the few fans gathered in Section 201, watching at least three-quarters of the action.

These seats were dubbed “the worst in American professional sports” by Business Insider, their view obstructed by the NHL-mandated safety netting, inexplicable advertising on that netting and the very architecture of the rink.

Like I said: I have no idea what the hell I’m watching. Because when the puck is anywhere near the Islanders’ goal crease or in back of the net, I can’t see it, the players or the play itself.

Here’s Johnny Boychuk of the Islanders, skating back to defend against a Carolina attacker. He knocks the puck away to the end boards, and he and the Hurricane chase it.

And they just … disappear. Like the departed in “The Leftovers” – here one moment, gone the next. 

Here’s Brock McGinn of the Hurricanes, skating in and firing the puck at Thomas Greiss and something happens. A goal? A save? I don’t know. The Islanders don’t look happy and the Hurricanes are celebrating. I’ll assume it’s a goal. I can’t see the red light. Or the net. Or the goalie. 

“It’s not the greatest view. I’m not going to [B.S.] you,” says Chris*, an Islanders fan seated in an adjoining section.

Chris is an Islanders season ticket holder who, in a feat of fan masochism, chooses to sit in a section where the most important sights are blocked out by a large advertisement for something called Draft Ops that neither of us had heard of before entering Barclays.

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“It was super late. One of those last-minute decisions. This seat was open, and I figured it was also cheap,” he said. “I didn’t realize the Draft Ops sign was going to be there. If it was gone, and you could see the net, it would be better. But I kind of knew what I was getting myself into.”

That level of self-awareness is rare among Islanders fans making their first foray into Barclays. There has been widespread anger and frustration with the move, not only because the arena features some of the oddest and most terrible sightlines in pro sports, but because the arena’s policies haven’t always been that welcoming to Islanders fans – witness the recent crackdown on fans watching warmups from the lower bowl. You need a special ticket to get downstairs before the game.

But sometimes, if you're sitting in Section 201, you get a ticket to come downstairs during the game.

As I watched the end of the first period, an usher walked down to me, Chris and about seven other fans.

“Here you go.”

He handed me a ticket for Section 19, Row 9.

“Ya'll can come downstairs after this period.”

(I was wearing my press credential. He didn’t check to see if I had a ticket for that section. Probably because who in their right mind would sit in 201 if they didn’t.)

Chris tells me it’s the second time he’s been upgraded this season, the first coming when the Nashville Predators were in town. His seats cost $35; the upgrades go for $89.

It’s not a bad deal ... if you don’t mind 20 minutes of not knowing what the hell is going on.

***

Dispatches From Barclays Center, Vol. 1

By Islanders Fan Kiva O.:

“When I went to the NYI open house this summer for prospective season ticket buyers, I told my Personal Associate I wanted to get a better look at the ‘hockey sightline problem’ from different sections. He showed me around, we discussed The Issues, and I finally asked The Question: Can anything be done to ‘fix’ the hockey problem? 

“He explained that the entire floor of the arena was a single slab of concrete, how the stands were planted in the concrete more or less, and how the pad for the rink had to be exactly where it was, I think because the original (hockey-friendly) design had put it there, and so that’s how it was built. The ice pad and pipes were kept so they could do figure skating/’Carnival on Ice’-type shows, not hockey, he said.

“The bottom line: fixing the ‘hockey problem’ would involve ripping out entire sections and then breaking up all that concrete. Just that would take months. Basically, it’s impossible, especially in a building that is used year-round, he said. It will never happen. 

“And now there’s that condo in the way….

“If you look at the Dean Street (back) end of the arena from the outside, there’s a construction site for this narrow, red-and-gray condo building which is nearly finished, smack up against the flat back of the arena. That building is standing where the rest of the hockey seats were supposed to go, until Bruce Ratner decided the French architect’s drawings were unrealistic and too expensive and who the hell would ever bring a hockey team to Brooklyn anyway?

“So, condo. Every time I look at it I curse him silently.”

***

In full disclosure, I like Barclays Center a lot.

I’ve been to a dozen or so Brooklyn Nets games after they relocated from New Jersey, where I grew up cheering for them at the Brendan Byrne Arena. What amazing memories those were: Me, my dad and 50 of our closest friends surrounded by 19,000 Michael Jordan fans when the Chicago Bulls were the road team. Good times.

There are two things I absolutely adore about Barclays.

The first is the food.

Dear god the food.

One night, I was blessed yet cursed with a friend’s Nets season-ticket perk in which you are able to get five free food items during the course of the game. My caloric intake from the steak sandwiches and the jumbo hot dog and the cheesecake was enough to kill a small hippopotamus, but I regretted nothing.

My second favorite thing is when you first walk into the arena. The sidewalk glows with light. The arena looks like some kind of futuristic casino. Then you walk in through the front doors and … you just see it. The court for basketball, or the rink for hockey. The sections open up to the playing surface in an almost sanctified way. You can hear angels singing (if you listen close enough through the Jay-Z mix playing before the Nets take the court).

The irony that one of Barclays Center’s greatest virtues is a clear sightline is not lost on me.

***

Dispatches From Barclays Center, Vol. 2

By Islanders fan Dylan M.:

“To try and keep it as short and to the point as possible, I'm an Islanders season ticket holder, and my seats have been obstructed by a temporary section that is supposed to be removed, according to both their many seating charts, and my own representative's words. 

“Instead of it being removed, it is simply tarped over and allowed to remain, because at the bottom of the section are ads visible on the TV broadcast.

“When I first brought up the issue during the pre-season, my rep informed me that they were aware of the issue, and planned to remove the section by Opening Night. Now, we're four games into the regular season, it has not been removed, and my rep has informed me that no changes to the setup are planned. 

“An entire corner of the ice, and almost half of the faceoff circle, is now missing from the view of lower bowl seats (which are marked and sold as unobstructed) to accommodate a removable section that is tarped over and will generate $0 in ticket revenue, and the only reasonable guess as to why is because there are ads at the bottom of the section for Bud Light and Pix11 News. And after saying all throughout the preseason that they were aware of the issue and planned to fix it, now that the season has started, they say they plan on doing nothing.

“For a building that already has trouble with obstructed views that are unable to be fixed, I think it's almost unbelievable that they would fail to remove something that can easily be fixed, because they can't be bothered to find a different place to stick two advertisements so they won't obstruct a good three sections in the lower bowl. 

“Unfortunately, the building already has such a bad hockey reputation that people that sit around me don't know that the section that blocks off the entirety of the near corner is completely removable, so they choose to sit somewhere else next time instead of asking for it to be removed.” 

***

Before heading to my new seats in Section 19, I decided to stop by two more sections of the arena that have been called some of the worst in the house.

Section 4 is one of the most bizarre setups I’ve seen in an arena.

As mentioned in the dispatch above, there are seats with a black tarp covering them, and then more temporary seating covered down below it. They block the boards and the corners, and they’re at a V-shaped angle with the section next to them. This means the fans seated next to the tarped-off seats need to awkwardly crane their necks to follow the play around the obstruction, instead of having the stands wrap all the way around the rink as they do in nearly every other building in the League. 

To make up for this odd gap in seating, the Islanders fill the space with – what else – a giant Draft Ops banner and – inexplicably – a white SUV that’s just … there.

In the corner of the rink. Visible on television, giving Islanders games the look of ones played inside a stadium in a temporary rink. A big white car that, in fact, has gained so much infamy that it has its own Twitter account:

I moved over to Section 31, which is located right under Section 201, and yet is superior when it comes to atrociousness. (That's the view at the top of this post.)

When seated in the first row, you lose nearly the entire zone in front of you, only seeing a sliver of ice around the blue line. Again, the culprit is the Draft Ops banner across the netting. It still sounds like a made-up company on a “Law and Order” episode about Draft Kings and Fan Duel. 

They sell these seats. To people with functioning retina. While they're listed as "obstructed view," including on Stub Hub, there are times when you’re sitting in the worst of the worst that Barclays offers when you can’t comprehend that these are sold to fans.

It’s like walking into an IMAX film and being required to wear a pirate’s eye patch if you’re seated in a certain row.

***

Dispatches From Barclays Center, Vol. 3

By Ritch Duncan 

“I checked out the Isles-Nashville game at the Barclays Center on a whim, cause the Mets were playing that night and lower bowl seats were to be had for a song. I picked up a seat in Section 9 for 44 bucks about 60 minutes before puck drop. 

“Here's the kicker: the seat sucked. 

“I was about 25-30 rows back and while I had a great view of the zone I was sitting in, I had to crane my neck and/or stand up to see the action in the corner or the right point on my side of the ice in the other zone. It wasn't listed as an obstructed view seat, and it technically wasn't, but I'll tell you, you couldn't follow the action anywhere on the right wing in that zone without popping up and down in your seat and doing all kinds of neck calisthenics. I'm not an expert, but it seemed to me the seats didn't slope up sharply enough to get a good view of the entire rink. 

“The face value of that seat was $185, and if I'd paid full price I'd have been furious. Basically, I paid for a $44 seat and got one.”

***

I arrived at Section 19, relocated ticket in hand. Waiting for a stoppage in play, I asked the usher which section was mine: To the left or the right?

“Middle,” she said, motioning with her stop sign.

I walked down the stairs to eventually come to a spot where the two sections had converged in a 'V' shape, leaving about a football-sized entryway to my row.

Chris from Section 201 was already seated there with his relocation ticket.

“Seriously?” I asked him, as I squeezed through the aisle. 

He nodded.

I sat down next to him for a moment before returning to the press area, for my first unobstructed view of the game. I handed him my ticket and asked him to spread the wealth. Somewhere in this barn, there had to be someone else who could use an upgrade.

Just look for the nearest Draft Ops banner, I guess.

***

Chris said something to me during that Carolina game that resonated: 

“It’s not the Islanders fault that they built this place like they did.”

While there’s something charmingly New York City about trying to graft one’s existence into an ill-fitting space – and the Islanders are basically that person moving from a three-bed-two-bath house into a studio apartment – there’s an unshakable sense among Islanders fans that this isn’t their home.

It wasn’t built for hockey, which is an incredibly asinine oversight for an arena this new. It wasn’t built for the Islanders, which is evident every time you see their signage dwarfed by that of the Nets. To put it in New York sports terms: There’s something very ‘New York Jets home game inside Giants Stadium’ about the vibe. Like you're a stranger in your own house. 

The Islanders are getting absolutely slaughtered for this ill-fit, which is fundamentally unfair but they’re doing everything they can not to earn a pass for it.

It’s in the way customer service has reacted lackadaisically to complaints about the game-going experience. It’s in the thin-skinned battles Brett Yormark is waging with fans, tone-policing their outrage over things like a terrible new goal horn.

Yet despite this most awkward of transitions … everybody’s trying.

The fans banging drums and starting chants in Section 228 are trying. The ushers moving people from the worst seats in the house to fill in the best ones are trying. The fans wrapping their brains around mass transit to Brooklyn instead of tailgating in Nassau are trying. The arena executives trying to remedy the sightline issues are trying.

It doesn’t feel like home now. It will. Perhaps even as quickly as the first time they have to defend home ice against an army of invading New York Rangers fans on Dec. 2. Perhaps when the Islanders start making playoff memories in Brooklyn.

Whenever it happens, fans like Chris are happy to know that even if some of the seats suck at Barclays, they’re still being filled to watch the Islanders in New York. 

“I understand people are pissed off,” he said. “I try to be reasonable. I go, ‘This seat is a better view than if they were playing in Quebec City or Kansas City or wherever they would have ended up.’”

* We’re calling our new Islanders fan friend “Chris” because the team is monitoring the behavior of season-ticket holders and we didn’t want to blow up his spot. Ditto others in the story.

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