As the Twitterverse is already aware, the New York Islanders are holding a press conference at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center at 1 pm, with the word being that they’re set to announce a move to the land of Marty Markowitz once their Nassau Coliseum lease expires in 2015.
There are all sorts of questions about this: Will 14,500 seats for hockey be enough? What did the Isles offer to Bruce Ratner to make it worth his while to give up being the easy winter alternative for concerts that can’t find dates at Madison Square Garden? Will the NHL even be playing games again by 2015?
I’m happily ensconced on a folding chair (black, of course) in the Barclays lobby, and the festivities are set to begin shortly. Liveblog begins below the jump in three, two…
1:20 pm: Charles Wang takes the podium: “Hello, Brooklyn!” Calls Bruce Ratner his “dear friend.” Talks about their mutual “dream and passion” to “build something special.” Finally, having name-checked everyone on the stage, cuts to the chase: “Today, we are announcing that the New York Islanders will remain in the local market,” with a 25-year agreement to play at Barclays Center, starting in 2015.
Wang says he’s spoken to Nassau County executive Ed Mangano about keeping Nassau County a vital destination, blah blah, anyway, ladies and gentlemen, here’s Bruce Ratner!
1:24 pm: Ratner’s “Hello, Brooklyn!” is way louder than Wang’s. Clearly he’s been doing this for longer. “Charles Wang is the real hero today,” he declares, then likes it so much that he says it again. “Charles Wang is the real hero today. He kept the Islanders in New York state.”
Mayor Bloomberg is next, and opens with a joke about how he only earns $1 a year so he doesn’t know if he can afford tickets. (He also mentions Brooklyn’s mojo, then says, “No, that’s not a new Brooklyn neighborhood.” Forced chuckles among the press throngs.)
Bloomberg is now talking in vague terms about how the Islanders will mean more revenue for the city to pay for firefighters, etc. Calls Barclays the best place for the team, points to LIRR top across street for Long Island fans to come visit. “Let’s not forget that the team is named for the island we’re standing on. The majority of people who live on the island live in Brooklyn and Queens, so it only makes sense that they play here.”
Mayor gives Wang and Isles GM Garth Snow a pair of Metrocards to use for the eventual Islanders Stanley Cup victory parade in Manhattan. Of course, by then they’ll need new ones to account for the fare hike, if not the switch to chip-based cards.
1:34 pm: Man, this is zipping along. Gary Bettman has already come and gone, Marty Markowitz is up. Thanks everybody in sight, calls Ratner a “visionary in our time.” Promises to drive the first Zamboni around the ice.
Isles GM Snow and Barclays CEO Brett Yormark take cameos. Yormark says in closing: “We are taking deposits for season tickets for the 2015-2016 season.”
1:40 pm: Bettman is asked what’s up with the 14,500-seat capacity of Barclays, which the commissioner worried publicly about earlier this year. Bettman says “the capacty is officially sited for hockey at fourteen-five,” but they’re talking to Ratner about adding some more seats for hockey, and “we expect capacity to be about 15, 15-plus. When you keep in mind that Winnipeg is doing quite well in a building about the same size,” and that the Nassau Coliseum only holds a bit over 16,000, a couple of thousand seats isn’t going to be a holdup. “This is a long-winded way of saying it’s not an issue.”
Flurry of questions for Wang. Could the Islanders move before 2015? “We are committed to finish where the 2015-16 season will be our first season here.” Will Wang sell part of the team? “I will continue to own the Islanders.” One hundred percent of the Islanders? “Exactly as is it now.” Could the team name change to Brooklyn Islanders? “No, we’re the New York Islanders.” Is the lease ironclad, or can Wang back out? “The lease that is signed is ironclad. We have 25 years with the Barclays Center.”
1:50 pm: Final question is asked before this breaks up: Why the surprise announcement? “We picked a date, we made a decision last night,” says Wang. Bettman echoes this, saying he only got the call last night to let him know the Isles were heading to Brooklyn. “I don’t think you should read anything into it other than that it was time to annouce the deal because the deal just got made.”
2:03 pm: The backdrop (black, of course) featuring mixed Barclays and Islanders logos — hey, somebody must have known this was coming before last night — is towed to the back of the room, where Wang is immediately swarmed by reporters. The Islanders owner is just about the most soft-spoken man on the planet, but a few audible remarks do emerge from the scrum: Asked why he chose to move, he says, “It’s important to have a place where people want to go. We have the oldest building in the league.” And asked what he’ll be paying in rent — a huge question, since everyone has assumed Wang has been jonesing for a building of his own where he can keep all the suite revenues and concessions and other goodies for himself, not be a tenant — he demurs, but says, “It’s obviously very skewed toward attendance and how we do. … We believe that if we move to a facility like this, we will do better.”
And with that, Brooklyn has its second major pro sports franchise. Or will, in two years, if the lockout ever ends. I’d ask Bettman about it, but he’s surrounded by an impenetrable wall of TV cameras right now, and do you know how much it hurts to get hit with those things?