The image above is a satellite picture of the lower portion of mainland New York and Long Island. The stars represent major pro sports arenas in New York State, excluding Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo. If you know basic geography, you can identify which one is Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, Madison Square Garden, Barclays Center and Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Nassau Coliseum will soon be removed from this map, as the Islanders and owner Charles Wang have announced that they will not return to Nassau County when their lease is up in 2015, and will play at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn until at least 2040.
This has been a major issue in sports and New York for a long time, and from a sports viewpoint, it is relieving to see that the issue is behind the Islanders and their fans. The decision to leave Nassau and move to Brooklyn has been a long time coming, dating back a few years when The Lighthouse Project faded into oblivion, and it became very unlikely that the Islanders would remain at their current address. There was a half-hearted effort to publicly fund a new arena last year, but Nassau County residents voted it down. The Islanders set up an exhibition with the Devils at the Barclays Center that was cancelled due to the current NHL lockout, and the writing was on the wall that the Islanders had hoped to call Brooklyn home. That hope came true with this announcement.
From a Nassau county point of view, this means two things: They will not have their extremely high taxes raised again, and they will no longer have a destination for sports, concerts and other shows like Disney on Ice and the circus. These shows have long been a staple of family life in the tri-state area; I certainly attended some of these shows as a kid at the Continental Airlines Arena (now Izod Center, another building with no tenant) and Madison Square Garden. That will no longer exist in Long Island, and families in Nassau and Suffolk counties will have to rely on New York City venues, with the higher prices and tough commutes and everything else that comes with it.
Parents on Long Island talk constantly about how easy it is to bring young children to games at the Coliseum. One caller into the Mike Francesa show on WFAN described a commute to the Coliseum as a 25 minute drive that gets the kids home before 11, as opposed to a 45-minute or more train ride into Brooklyn, and everything that comes with public transportation. This will have an impact on the Islanders, and we will see a much younger crowd coming to games, with a lot less families filling the seats. Less families generally translates to less season tickets, less legacy fans and a much more raucous fanbase. That is something the Islanders will have to take with the new building.
Though I talk about the inevitability of the Islanders moving to Brooklyn, it’s important to remember what Barclays Center director Bruce Ratner said at the press conference. “Charles Wang is the real hero today.” Wang had the opportunity to take the team out of New York to multiple markets, including the apparently hockey-starved market of Kansas City and many different cities in Canada that would love an NHL team. But to Wang, the Islanders are as important to New York as New York is to the Islanders.
It is a culturally important thing to Wang, the Islanders fan and the team to keep them in New York, which after a lot of headache, hard work and battles, he managed to do by moving them to the west end of the island, at the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues. Oddly enough, this is the same intersection that NYC planner Robert Moses would not let the Dodgers move to, citing Flushing Meadows Park as a much better location for a stadium. Today, the Mets have built their new home, Citi Field, on the site of Shea Stadium near Flushing Meadows Park, and the Nets and now Islanders are setting up shop across the street from the proposed Dodger Dome.