An Unprecedented Move By The Islanders?


A picture of what the new Nassau Coliseum would look like if Bruce Ratner’s proposal is accepted. Photo Credit to SHoP Architects

Uniondale, N.Y.-Stop me if you have heard his one before.  The New York Islanders are doing something that is unprecedented in the NHL. No no, they are not moving their TV broadcasts to a public access channel, and they did not sign Evgeni Nabokov to a 15 year extension. No, this one is actually a lot more interesting.

By now, most people have heard of the different proposals that have been laid out to replace the aging, yet graceful gray lady known as the Nassau Coliseum.  Of the 4 proposals that were presented to Nassau County May 2nd, two stand out above the rest.  Yes there were 4 proposals, but let’s face it, the 2 proposals, from MSG and from Bruce Ratner, are the only ones that really matter.

The first proposal is from our friends at Madison Square Garden. The company that treats the Islanders like the sibling they never wanted proposed that the arena be cut to 14,500 seats. The good news? Sports would still be played in the downsized arena! The bad news? It would be The New York Liberty, The New York Knicks D-League team and a New York Rangers AHL team. Ah yes, that’s JUST what Long Island was waiting for! Refurbish the New York Islanders home for 42 years with an AHL team of their fiercest rival. Makes sense to me.

The proposal is not all bad. They do offer to create something called “Long Island Live”, which would be 150,000 square feet of high end retail and restaurants with famous chefs. A real feature point for Long Island.  Sounds familiar right? Where have I heard that before? OH I remember now! THE LIGHTHOUSE PROJECT!

Then, we have what is perhaps the most interesting of all. This is the proposal from Bruce Ratner and the Barclays team. Their “dream team” includes Jay-Z,  Nets Owner Mikhail Prokhorov, and a company called Legend, which is  an entertainment and concession company owned by the Yankees and Dallas Cowboys and fronted by former MSG President Dave Checketts.

Their proposal would be to turn the aging Coliseum into a 13,000 seat arena.  There would  be 1 pre-season Nets game, 38 minor-league hockey games, and 50 concerts. The proposal also includes a large movie theater, an outdoor amphitheater and 50,000 sq feet of retail space. Again, nothing new. We have heard this all before.

Here comes the “unprecedented” part of the proposal. In addition to the aforementioned events, the Islanders would still play 4 regular season games at the “NEW” Nassau Coliseum.  They would play 6 games a year there in total. This has never been done before and according to an NHL official is “unprecedented”. No NHL team has ever played home games in 2 different markets. Slam dunk right? Great idea! Not so fast. This would not just be something the Isles could just say they want and then make it happen. Like Long Island, the NHL has a series of hoops you must jump through before something like this could happen.

First step would be to get it approved by the league. I am guessing this is going to be tough. The league isn’t going to be thrilled with something unorthodox. But, if they can explain to the league how important it would be for the team to hang on to its Long Island fan base, and how it would probably improve ticket sales, it would definitely help their case.  It’s not like it’s that far from Brooklyn and would cause any undo headaches for visiting teams. The Marriott next door to the Coliseum is still standing, and still will be standing in 2015. Oh yeah, it’s also owned by a man you may have heard of, a Mr. Charles Wang.

Here’s where it gets tricky. There’s a team who plays a few miles to the west named the New York Rangers, although we have all had a few other choice names for them over the years, they are still officially known as the Rangers. When the Islanders were awarded a franchise on Dec 31, 1971, they had to pay the Rangers a $4 million fee for impinging on their territorial rights. You see, when the Isles came along the Rangers were told that they own the territory for 50 miles around their home in midtown Manhattan. Because of that agreement, and the fact that it was never amended to include the Isles or Devils existence, we have a teensy problem with playing games in a 2nd arena. Technically, the Rangers had to approve the Isles move to Brooklyn, and predictably they didn’t put up a fight. But you combine what would be a  losing bid for the site with more press for your rivals and the Rangers may not be so keen on letting the Islanders come back home. According to NHL rules, not only can the Rangers object, but any other team who believes that its unfair, has every right to block the Isles from playing roughly 10% of their home schedule back on the Isle.

Some people have complained about the spaceship/futuristic look of the arena in the Ratner proposal. Guess what? Who cares?! Would they still play games here if they chose this proposal? Yes? Fine.  I am less concerned about the retail space, the movie theaters and all the other extraneous things, and more interested in the 6 games back on Long Island.

The most concerning thing to me would be the seating. With only about 15,000 seats in Brooklyn and just 13,000 at the New Coliseum, even with 41 sell outs, the Isles would likely have the lowest attendance in the league. This is something that may be concerning to the NHL. We still have a ways to go with these proposals, and anything can change.

Even the Queen Bee herself, Hempstead Town Supervisor, and public enemy #1 to Islanders fans, Kate Murray, said there were no “obvious red flags” in any of the plans. If you recall, Charles Wang was never able to get support from the Hempstead Town Board for his plan. If the “Big Boss Lady” is ok with these plans, it could go a long way towards something new at the Coliseum site.

I happen to think that the whole thing reeks of impropriety. I am not exactly Mr.  Conspiracy Theory, but it’s not breaking news to say that Wang and Murray were at loggerheads over this whole proposal.  They clearly didn’t like each other. Both of the parties wanted to have their cake and eat it too. Wang took his toys and went to Brooklyn, and now Murray wants to show him that she doesn’t need him to have something great on the site.

Seemingly, no matter what proposal is chosen by the powers that be of Nassau County, something interesting will be happening in Uniondale; even after the Isles flee for greener, or more concrete, pastures.