Following a narrow playoff miss and some major offseason moves including the departure of assistant captain Travis Hamonic, the New York Islanders are entering the 2017-18 season on shaky ground. Although the team has faced lots of criticism regarding their on ice performance, the team’s main source of adversity for the team has lied off the ice. Ever since moving to Brooklyn in 2015, the team has struggled to perform and – more importantly – put butts in seats. Many fans refused to make the 28-mile drive and stopped showing up to games while others have significantly reduced their season ticket packages to include just weekend games. Recently, relations between the team and their current home (the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY) have exploded. In May, the arena announced that it had taken the first steps in opting out of their current contract with the Islanders and in October the Islanders revealed their proposal to build a new stadium. As fans and followers of the team will tell you, this battle has been a long time coming.
Before the move, the Islanders were able to fill their previous arena (The Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Long Island, NY), but after moving to Brooklyn, the team has experienced a 21% drop in fan attendance. Last season, the Islanders averaged 11,894 fans per game, placing them dead last in league attendance. The team averages close to 2,200 fewer fans per game now that they have moved to Brooklyn. In talking with some of the fans you can immediately hear the disappointment in their voice. Many fans remember the good old days of Islander’s legends Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy. Some fans reminisce about the 3 championships that were captured on home ice during the 80’s and later their heartbreak over the fake sale of the team to “fraudster” John Spano in 1996. But after the team relocated to Brooklyn in 2015, the entirety of Long Island felt gutted. Some fans even said that the team should have just relocated to Las Vegas because in their eyes “the distance (to Brooklyn) would feel the same”.
The fans protest to the change in venue has severely dampened the arena’s atmosphere. Many players describe the home atmosphere as being similar to the atmosphere they encounter during away games. Former Islanders left winger Thomas Vanek revealed his frustration with the arena after leaving the team in free-agency to sign with the Detroit Red Wings. Vanek told Newsday “I would’ve stayed in a heartbeat if we’d have stayed on the Island…I know moving over here [to Brooklyn] has turned some guys off.” However, the arena’s location isn’t the only source of frustration for fans and players. Last season, Islanders captain John Tavares suffered a season ending injury due to an ice defect. Tavares, who is entering the final year of of his contract, has expressed some worry about playing in a stadium that is really not designed for hockey, “ it’s just never going to be quite like what you’re going to get in the arena that was traditionally built for hockey.” With Tavares set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, the Islanders have become paranoid in potentially losing their star player. They have gone to great length to ensure that they have an enticing and safe home for their captain next year if he chooses to return.
So if they leave Brooklyn, where will they go? The team has suggested making a return to the Colosseum, which has since been significantly renovated. Recently, when the team returned to the Colosseum for a preseason game against the Philadelphia Flyers, fans flocked to the arena, ecstatic to see the team even if it was only for one game. Although a return to the beloved Coliseum has not been officially ruled out, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has remained pessimistic that the Islanders will return to their old stomping grounds.The next possible option would be moving the team to Madison Square Garden. However, with the arena already serving as the home to several sports franchises such as the New York Rangers and New York Knicks as well as concerts and other shows such as Sesame Street, a move to Manhattan is doubtful. The only remaining option for the team – besides leaving New York – is to build a stadium. Luckily, team officials have already identified a great location and composed a proposal. Unfortunately, it would appear that the Islanders aren’t the only franchise looking for a new home.
Recently, the franchise has been battling it out with New York’s newest Major league Soccer team, New York City Football Club for a new area. Both teams have submitted proposals to build stadiums in an area just outside of Queens. Currently, NYCFC is looking – just like the islanders- to leave their current home, Yankee stadium. Th3e team claims it would like to move to a facility that is intended for soccer. This move has perplexed some fans since NYCFC would be leaving the home that was generously given to them by one of their majority backers, the New York Yankees. Meanwhile the Islanders have reportedly partnered with group that poses a majority share in the New York Mets to help fight NYCFC for the rights to Belmont Park.
Although both teams are looking to move into facilities that are either dedicated for their respective sports, their reasoning seems to be different. While NYFC does not struggle with attendance (5th in the MLS for average fan attendance) they seems to be interested in gaining some independence from their parent investors (The New York Yankees). Meanwhile the Islanders just want to be closer to their fans. The team’s most recent attempt to incentivise fans to come to the Barclays Center includes giving all fans free replica jerseys if they purchase tickets to 3 or more games.
Unfortunately for the Islanders, this process promises to be a lengthy one. They will not be able to break ground until long after the NHL season has ended, leaving the future of their coveted captain John Tavares in jeopardy. Regardless of where the team moves to, it has discovered that the age long adage rings true, there really is no place like home.