Are the New York Islanders planning their escape from Barclays Center?
The Islanders are in talks with the Wilpon family, owners of the New York Mets, about building an arena adjacent to Citi Field in Queens, according to sports columnist Scott Soshnick of Bloomberg News, who is the first mainstream source to report rumors that have been kicking around New York recently.
Willets Point is emerging as a persuasive alternative to the team’s current home at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center if the Islanders’ owners and arena officials can’t agree on a series of hockey-specific improvements, said the people, who asked for anonymity because the negotiations are private.
The team’s first season at Barclays Center, which is owned by Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, was marred by poor reviews from fans, who complained about obstructed view seats, and from players, who who said the quality of the ice was sub-par. The team’s owners also realized they couldn’t make as much money as their league counterparts, most of which play in bigger arenas.
The Islanders, who are owned by Value Retail Plc founder Scott Malkin and Jonathan Ledecky, and Sterling Equities, which owns the Mets, have been discussing a possible move to Queens for months, said the people.
As Bloomberg notes, Sterling Equities and its partner Related Cos. made an agreement with New York City officials to redevelop Willets Point near Citi Field, with “stores and entertainment attractions.”
Now, there’s a lot to unpack here.
First is that Barclays Center and the team do have the ability to opt out of their lease following the 2018-19 season. So it’s plausible the Islanders could leave; and if a new facility isn’t ready, then hey wow isn’t there an arena in Nassau that might need a temporary tenant?
But a key takeaway here, and in Jonathan Ledecky’s recent comments in meeting the media for the first time as Islanders co-owner, is that Queens would be a “persuasive alternative to the team’s current home at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center if the Islanders’ owners and arena officials can’t agree on a series of hockey-specific improvements.’
Ledecky knows the relationship between Islanders fans and their new facility is a contentious one, and that transit challenges between where the fan base lives and where the Islanders now play are real. “We are meeting consistently with Barclays and the Long Island Rail Road. They ran extra trains for the playoffs. I said to the head of the Long Island Rail Road, ‘How come you can’t do that during the regular season?’” he said recently.
He knows that growing that fan base in Brooklyn is problematic when Barclays Center’s reputation is tarnished and it’s most famous for having seats where no one can see a third of the ice. It’s a basketball arena round hole and hockey is a square peg. That’s a tough sell.
He also knows that despite all the fanfare about the move to a lovely new building, Barclays sits 15,700 for hockey, making it the smallest arena capacity other than Winnipeg. Great for atmosphere, not so much for the team’s bottom line, especially when they don’t own the building.
He knows Barclays has to improve for the Islanders to thrive there. And he knows he doesn’t have leverage for those improvements without a viable alternative for the Islanders that isn’t Quebec.
So, do the math.
B.D. Gallof wonders if this report is based on conversations from months ago, or if talks are ongoing. But whatever the case, it’s a bombshell for Islanders fans, who are no doubt eyeing their cars and thinking about a much easier way to get to Islanders games – and there’ll be more parking, too!