Hockey Headlines

Monday, 30 January 2017

Here We Go Again

There are many signs of an unhealthy relationship. Things like a lack of trust, a lack of communication, and ultimatums to leave all contribute to an unhealthy relationship, and it's almost better to cut ties once the threat of one or both sides leaving is played, especially in public. Relationships can still be salvaged from this point, but both sides need a new attitude about committing to one another if things are going to work. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the unhealthy relationship between the Barclays Center and the New York Islanders.

In news that hit the wires today, it seems that Barclays Center is no longer happy with the New York Islanders as its tenant and is thinking about terminating their agreement to play in Barclays Center as early as the end of the 2018-19 season. Apparently, the low attendance and oft-heard complaints about the venue is no longer worth the $53.5 million annually the Barclays Center pays the Islanders in exchange for control of business operations, which includes revenue from ticket and suite sales.

I'm starting to feel a little deja vu.

I quoted this Stu Hackel article from The Hockey News before, but Hackel identified this business arrangement on July 19, 2015 as "a highly unusual situation".
The agreement to move the franchise includes the provision that the arena pays Islanders ownership an annual sum to play at Barclays Center and, in exchange, Barclays Center acquired all ticket and suite sales, sponsorships, marketing and promotions and their revenue. That arrangement was confirmed by Brett Yormark, the CEO of both the Barclays Center and the NBA Brooklyn Nets, the original team in the building, in a late June conversation. Yormark added, "Charles made a promise to us and he's delivered a very good team to us, and we're going to monetize it." The Islanders declined comment on the agreement.
Yormark's comments in 2015 are clearly different from how the owners of Barclays Center feels now. But if we look deeper into this mess, the problem in this equation isn't the Islanders. With Barclays Center in charge of all ticket and suits sales, sponsorship deals, marketing, and promotions, having the third-lowest attendance in the NHL would make those in charge of all of the above factors responsible for attendance at the rink for Islanders games.

I don't live in Brooklyn or New York City, so I can't comment on the promotions happening in and around the rink. You would imagine, however, that the promotions would include the fact that the Islanders won their first NHL Stanley Cup Playoff series in 23 years on Barclays Center ice. That doesn't seem to be the case, though, and the Islanders getting off to a slow start this season certainly didn't help the walk-up ticket sales. The Islanders have been better, though, but the sight lines inside the building - including the entire zone that disappears under the balcony at one end - haven't been improved. That falls directly on the arena once more.

With NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's comments at the NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles this week, this could just be a move by Barclays Center to establish a negotiating position if Bettman's comments hold true. He told reporters, "The owners are committed to the franchise, they're committed to New York and the great fan base that has followed the Islanders. There are some issues about playing in Barclay, it may be fundamental as to the ice system and that's not something that can be fixed in the short term. I think as is prudent Scott Malkin and John Ledecky are reviewing the situation and looking seriously at what their options are."

As stated by Bettman, "Scott Malkin and John Ledecky are reviewing the situation and looking seriously at what their options are" in regards to the ice system at Barclays. We've heard players make comments about the ice in Barclays Center, but ownership and NHL have never once made a comment about it. Until now. That could have been the catalyst for this new development in the Islanders-Barclays relationship that seems to benefit no one entirely.

This situation needs to be resolved one way or another. Ideally, the Islanders would play in an arena they own where they would make business decisions based on their entire financial picture instead of a $53.5 million payout annually. For Barclays Center, they're now bleeding money in making that payment to host 41 nights of NHL hockey annually in front of some 12,500 people, and they may be looking to renegotiate the terms of the agreement going forward which, in turn, would put more pressure on the Islanders as the majority of their revenue-generating options are controlled by Barclays Center.

In the end, one of the main reasons why relationships fail is squabbles over money. It appears that this relationship which was supposed to benefit both sides will just be another statistic unless the Islanders and Barclays Center can find a way to keep one another happy, especially in the pocketbook. No one - especially the fans of this proud franchise - will win if these two sides don't resolve this.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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