It’s official: The New York Islanders are coming home. While the team makes its way back to Long Island, it’s important to take this opportunity to reflect on their time in Brooklyn and what they could actually be losing in the move.
This past Wednesday, fans of the New York Islanders woke up to an early holiday present. It had been announced that after several seasons of clamouring for a return to Long Island, the team would finally be making a homecoming with the promise of a new arena to be built in Elmont, New York. It was arguably the biggest day in Islanders history since the fourth Stanley Cup Championship.
With this new development, the Islanders would be given an arena for years into the future with a 49-year lease and bring the heart back to Long Island. The new building would be built with a hockey team in mind, giving fans the comfort and closeness that the Barclays Center has always lacked.
The images of what the Belmont arena would look like give a clear picture of what the experience for fans and players would be. With open concourses, 18,000 seats and the promise of enhanced public transportation, the New York Islanders will finally have a world-class home.
No true fan can say that this isn’t phenomenal news. After several painstaking seasons, they will finally be able to put the Barclays Center in their rearview mirror. However, it’s important to acknowledge the benefits there were in having a home in Brooklyn, New York.
Barclays Center Woes
It was undeniable that the Barclays Center had its major problems. First and foremost, its location made it incredibly difficult for the majority of the team’s existing fan base to come to games.
While fans in Queens and the westernmost towns of Nassau County didn’t feel this burn quite as much, those farther out on Long Island and Suffolk County would be forced to make a journey over an hour long commute to reach Brooklyn. This had the most impact on game day attendance, making it inconvenient for even diehard fans to see their team live.
The arena itself was never built for hockey. The seats are uncomfortably close together, the scoreboard is off centre and the ice itself often felt like more of a sludge puddle. These things left the team open to both media and rival criticism while simultaneously making the game experience less comfortable for any given Islander fan.
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What We Would Be Losing
With all of this being said, there is a massive loss in moving from Brooklyn. While the building itself may have been a source of agitation for fans, the culture of the neighborhood would have changed the foundation of the Islanders for the better.
The Islanders have, and now always will be, a small market team that serves its niche community. Moving back to Long Island will certainly be the best case scenario for the majority of its preexisting fan base; if the team is good, fans will come. The arena will be fuller and no one would have to put themselves out to see a game.
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However, a new home in Brooklyn would have given the Islanders the chance to grow in one of the greatest sports markets in the world. New York City would have allowed the team to gain an entirely new fan base to join the old and expand the culture of its market.
This was one of the selling points of the Barclays Center from the very beginning but when new fans didn’t come pouring in the front doors as soon as they were open, the Islanders base deemed the endeavor a failure. What they fail to realize is that successfully melding with a culture takes time.
Had the Islanders stayed in Brooklyn for as long as their contract had promised, the culture of the surrounding area and the fan base itself would have evolved. Just standing in Atlantic Terminal in an Islander jersey will draw curious strangers to ask questions about the team or the next game. The community was intrigued and slowly but surely getting more involved.
The Islanders playing in Brooklyn would also help them compete with their cross-town rivals, the New York Rangers. Their dominance over New York City has always been a slight against Islander fans, making for a clear superior/inferior team dynamic. Given a decade in the city, the Islanders would make a serious dent in their “territory”, reclaiming it as their own and putting some of the little brother narratives in the past.
There is no arguing that a new arena in Belmont will be overwhelmingly positive. The New York Islanders belong on Long Island. However, while Nassau is where they’re meant to be, it’s important to recognize the chances that will be lost in the teams’ homecoming.