Things have been mostly quiet on the New York Islanders arena front since their public vote for a new home in the 516 crashed and burned spectacularly last summer. That all changed yesterday afternoon, however, with the announcement that the team has scheduled an exhibition game against the Devils at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center for October 2, just four days after the new home of the Brooklyn Nets (keep saying it, you’ll get used to it) gets its official inauguration by way of a concert by the team’s co-owner.
The proclamation led to media excitement way out of proportion to a single preseason hockey game, thanks to the presumption that Isles owner Charles Wang and Nets chieftains Bruce Ratner and that guy running for president of Russia are plotting to make this much more than a one-time visit.
“The announcement serves as another shot across the bow of Nassau County politicians and voters,” declared the Times’ hockey bloggers. The Post’s Rich Calder, meanwhile, alluded to “behind-the-scenes talks about the team moving to the Barclays Center after its lease at Nassau Coliseum expires in 2015.”
There’s one problem with that scenario: As part of the frugality-induced downsizing of the Nets’ arena that took place when Ratner sacked architect Frank Gehry in 2009, the building’s floor is now sized only for hoops, not pucks. The solution proposed by the Brooklyn arena operators has been to reduce the building’s capacity from 18,000 to 14,500 seats for hockey. Nets spokes-VP Barry Baum tells the Voice that this “would involve a decreased capacity in the upper and lower seats behind one of the goals” — likely along the lines of what the AT&T Center in San Antonio does for the minor-league Rampage, with one entire end taken up by a giant ad board.
That works fine for minor-league hockey, and should be good enough for an exhibition game, especially when the Islanders aren’t even drawing 14,500 fans a game out in Uniondale. But for a permanent home of an NHL franchise? That’d be more problematic.
First off, a hypothetical Brooklyn Islanders would be playing in the league’s smallest arena: The Winnipeg Jets are the current record holders, squeezing into the 15,000-seat MTS Centre. At 14,500 seats, in fact, the Isles would be doomed to draw less than all but two non-Islander NHL teams (the Dallas Stars and the when-are-they-moving-to-Canada-already Phoenix Coyotes) — not a vision to warm the cockles of a pro sports owner’s heart.
Then too, there’s the little matter that the Islanders would be sub-tenants of the Nets in Brooklyn, which means giving up first dibs on all the suite revenue, ad board and concessions sales, and other boodle that makes having a brand-new arena such a lucrative prospect for sports teams. And Ratner and Yormark’s newfound love of hockey notwithstanding, the Nets would no doubt command a pricey rent to make up for all the Justin Bieber on Ice shows that would have to be forgone to keep winter dates open for NHL games — when asked recently why Kansas City’s new Sprint Center wasn’t going after any pro sports teams more aggressively, arena operator Tim Leiweke told the Kansas City Star, “The last thing we or the city want to do is throw away [the concert] model and make the arena a loss leader with another tenant. It’s a tougher scenario with a professional team.”
Still, there is at least a dim chance that all this skate-clad footsie with Brooklyn is about more than shaking down Nassau County for a new arena that the Islanders can have all to their lonesome, and that one day the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush will ring with the sound of Rangers and Islanders fans debating their respective teams’ merits in traditional fashion. If so, though, don’t expect 40 nights of hockey to do much for the Barclays Center’s much-debated economic impact on Brooklyn. Asked whether two-team arenas provide any more bang for their construction bucks, University of Alberta sports economist Brad Humphreys emailed in reply: “No. All my previously published research on economic impact has taken into account multiple tenants in facilities. Doesn’t make any difference. Still no impact.” Just like the Islanders offense!