Friday, 20 April 2012

No Isles For Brooklyn

The brand-new Barclays Center is set to host the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils on October 2, 2012 in an NHL preseason game, but it might be the only NHL hockey that the Barclays Center will see this year. And that's fine for most, but the Islanders, having lost the battle for a new arena in Hempstead and fed up with their aging arena in Nassau Coliseum, are now looking for a new home, and the Barclays Center seems to fit the bill when it comes to a brand-new venue for hockey. The newest New York landmark already has a tenant in the NBA's New Jersey Nets, so it seems that there really isn't anything to worry about in terms of the Islanders moving in as a roommate. Unless your name is Gary Bettman.

Gary Bettman was asked about the possible move into the Barclays Center by the Islanders today, and he repeated previous comments made that "the league ideally wanted the club to remain in Nassau County". Of course, the NHL isn't really interested in any clubs moving, but is this really a "move" in the sense that a team is being relocated within the same city? The franchise's lease at Nassau Coliseum runs out after the 2014-15 season, so finding a new venue is paramount for the health of the franchise.

Bettman repeated himself that the league was helping the Islanders explore their options "in the metropolitan area" at an Associated Press Sports Editors meeting today, and that moving the team outside New York was not currently being considered. I guess the rumors about the Isles-to-Quebec can die off for a while as it seems that the NHL wants the Islanders to remain in the city, if not the state, of New York at worst. With the Barclays Center opening at 620 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, would that not still be considered "in New York"?

According to this page on the Barclays Center website, Islanders General Manager Garth Snow stated, "We're extremely excited to play the first NHL game in the new, state-of-the-art Barclays Center. We already have some of the most passionate fans in the league supporting our young team, and we are looking forward to expanding our base into Brooklyn."

Seems like a smart move, right? Move into an area that could be considered underserved as a hockey market in Brooklyn, and try to gain more fans. Honestly, the move closer to Manhattan and its surrounding areas could be beneficial as the Islanders may sway some of the casual Rangers fans into becoming Islanders fans. The key, however, is that Brooklyn is the most populous of New York's five boroughs, and 41.1% of its residents are in the key demographic of 18-44. That's a great market to work in when trying to attracting fans, and the Islanders' young team may be a draw to the residents of Brooklyn as they appear to be a team that is fairly blue-collared and hard-working. Brooklyn is home to many banks and credit unions, and has sizable services and manufacturing employment numbers. With unemployment low in the borough, Brooklyn appears to be an excellent mark when it comes to finding a place with income that support an NHL team.

Ethnically, there are many people living in Brooklyn that may not take to hockey as their primary sporting interest, and this is something that the Islanders may have to tackle if they indeed move to the Barclays Center. The area around the arena on Atlantic Avenue has a large Greek-American influence, and the businesses in the area reflect that. The street crossing Atlantic Avenue to the south, Flatbush Avenue, has an Arab-American influence. There is a significant West Indian community throughout the borough, and the Flatbush Avenue-area businesses also reflect this. To the southwest, there is a large Italian-American contingent, and the Bushwick area to the east is nearly 80% Hispanic. Traditionally, none of these ethnic groups hold hockey as the primary sport they follow, so the Islanders may have some work to do in attracting new fans. But the possibilities are endless if they can sway a few people to come watch their games at Barclays Center.

Where it may make sense to move the Islanders to Brooklyn is on the transit map. Much like Madison Square Garden is a major stop for a number of public transit options, the Barclays Center is on the hub of the public transit lines in Brooklyn. "Barclays Center will also afford current Islander fans with great accessibility," said Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark, "as the Long Island Rail Road and nine subway lines will come directly to the arena at the Atlantic Terminal transit hub." That's a great way to entice people to come to see your games as public transportation to and from the game are literally a stone's throw away. There seems to be opportunities for public parking further away, so the choices for fans heading to and from the games are numerous. Like the Rangers in Manhattan, this puts the Islanders directly on several major routes for people heading to and from Brooklyn.

If you take a close look at the map of Brooklyn where the new Barclays Center is being built, it's near a major harbour to the west and the Brooklyn Navy Yard to the north. In saying that, there may be a chance to revive those Fisherman jerseys as a possible alternate jerseys with the harbours being nearby, and the Islanders can certainly honour the men and women of the US Navy with special camouflage jerseys when they feel it necessary as other teams do. As long as they get rid of these garbage jerseys in three years time - the exact time when their lease runs out - the world will be right once again in hockey.

While I get that the Islanders were named after their Long Island home, there are a couple of aspects that the Islanders can use from former iterations that would make great sense. The Sea Gate area of Brooklyn is famous for the Coney Island Lighthouse, and I'm pretty sure the Islanders have used a lighthouse as a logo before. I'm not suggesting that they use that as a the chest logo, but that could return as a secondary shoulder logo, and it would fit nicely as representation of one of Brooklyn's most iconic buildings. Again, the Fisherman logo is probably more suited as an alternate logo and it may need a tweak or two to have it fit more to Brooklyn, but the logo works with the harbours nearby.

All in all, I can't see why Gary Bettman is against the Islanders moving to Barclays Center full-time in 2015. I understand that there should be some investigation as to the viability of the market in Brooklyn, but the team is still in New York, it's in a more populous area than Hempstead, and it makes the Islanders franchise more relevant to the city of New York rather than being out in Hempstead. The distance from Hempstead to Brooklyn via the Grand Central Parkway is a bit of a drive - approximately one hour - for a 7:30pm start, but if there are only 10,000 people going to see the team in Hempstead, how many fans will be lost with them moving an hour to the west and closer to Manhattan? Madison Square Garden to Barclays Center is a mere 30 minutes on public transit compared to a three-hour public transit trip from Nassau Coliseum. At worst, I see that as a wash as many people in Manhattan may head down to Brooklyn to see the Islanders if the prices are affordable.

I wouldn't give up on the hopes that the Islanders will move out of Nassau "Mausoleum" just yet, Islander fans. They may move west to Brooklyn, but that's the only option that seems logical with Hempstead killing off a new arena in that area. And if it saves the storied franchise known as the New York Islanders, I say move them as soon as the lease is done.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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