Isle see you in Brooklyn

The New York Islanders will remain on Long Island after all. In an announcement in which owner Charles Wang, commissioner Gary Bettman, and the NHL save face, the Isles will move, in 2015, roughly 25 miles (less as the crow flies, more if you are driving) west to the Barclays Center, and become a co-tenant with the Brooklyn (formerly New Jersey) Nets. It is a less than ideal solution to the lease issue they had with the Nassau Coliseum, since the Barclays Center was not designed with professional hockey in mind (no one knows why). However, this will keep the franchise in the New York Metropolitan market, as opposed to moving the team to another city altogether, such as: Quebec City; Houston; Kansas City (which already has an NHL-caliber arena built); or Seattle (which might end up with the Edmonton Oilers – but that is another story). In the short-term, this is good news for the NHL, and lord knows they need all the good news they can get. (Of course, if the NHL really wants good news, they would end their current, needless lockout). In the long-run, I have my concerns. The lease at Barclays will be for 25 years. I suppose that is a standard length term for a sports team, but a quart-century is a long time to spend in an unproven venue in an unproven market. Who’s to say that we won’t hear the same-old-song 20 years from now: the Islanders are not competitive and losing money, and threatens to leave unless it gets a bigger and better building. (If global warming does have its doomsday scenario, the Kansas City Islanders may not be such a misnomer in 2040).

There are parallels between the Nets exodus from New Jersey, and the Islanders immanent relocation. Both franchises were considered a laughingstock by the fans, utterly shunned by potential free agents, and virtually invisible in regards to local media coverage. In terms of NY sports media power rankings, the Nets and Islanders were a distant 8th and 9th, respectively – light years behind the 7th place New Jersey Devils, and just barely ahead of minor league sports leagues (the WNBA’s Liberty, and MLS’ Red Bulls), minor league baseball teams (the single A Brooklyn Cyclones and Staten Island Yankees), and college teams (St John’s, Rutgers, Stony Brook). Moving to Brooklyn has  bought both franchises instant credibility. The Nets have already parlayed their new-found respect by re-signing Deron Williams, and trading for Joe Johnson. The Nets had a plan to challenge the New York Knicks for local superiority, and the Knicks are ripe for the taking.

While the Nets 5 year plan may be coming to fruition, do the Islanders have a similar plan in place? The big difference between the new co-tenants is that Brooklyn is that the Nets are going against a mediocre franchise that has had one playoff win in the past 12 years in a huge basketball market, while the Islanders are going head-to-head-to-head with both of last year’s Eastern Conference Finalists, both of which are primed to be Stanley Cup contenders for the foreseeable future, in a market that is not known as a hotbed for hockey.

The sad thing is that the tepid reaction from the Islander fans from Nassau and Suffolk counties. It’s not surprising… just sad. The writing was on the wall. Nassau county has had a serous budget crisis for years now, and voters have turned down multiple attempts to raise money for a new arena for the area. The most vocal response I’ve heard are those fans from nicer towns of Suffolk who vehemently refuse to take public transportation to Brooklyn.  For those who don’t know, it is nearly impossible to get to the Nassau Coliseum via public transportation, which means the fanbase has been conditioned to drive to the games. Barclays is just the opposite – it is nearly impossible to drive to the game. (Not the mention that there is very limited parking in the arena and just slightly less limited parking within the vicinity of the edifice.

Soon the circle will be complete. Two ends of time will be neatly tied. After World War II, Nassau county was the origin of white flight, as many whites, especially veterans, left Brooklyn for the greener pastures of the subdivisions. Almost seven decades later, many Caucasians will be leaving a suburb for the Greener(?) pastures of downtown Brooklyn.


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