SBD/October 25, 2012/Franchises

Islanders Agree To 25-Year, "Ironclad" Lease To Play At Barclays Center

Wang had been seeking options since a $400M arena referendum failed in '11
Islanders Owner Charles Wang said that the team's new 25-year lease to play in Brooklyn's Barclays Center beginning with the '15-16 season is "'ironclad,' without an opt-out clause," according to Marshall & Brodsky of NEWSDAY. Wang said that he "will remain the full owner of the Islanders." He added that the team will “retain their name and logo, and plan to honor their lease with the county by playing at Nassau Coliseum through the 2014-2015 season.” Wang said that he had been “seeking other options for the Islanders, including those outside of New York,” since shortly after a referendum to build a $400M new arena failed in '11. He said that talks with Barclays Center developer Bruce Ratner “began in earnest seven months ago.” The deal was “finalized Tuesday night.” While Brooklyn had “always been an option for the Islanders, some had discounted it because of the relatively small size of the Barclays Center when outfitted for hockey.” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that the arena “fits 14,500 hockey fans and could be changed to allow at least 500 more.” Meanwhile, Nassau County Exec Edward Mangano yesterday said that his administration “did everything it could to keep the team and would now work to develop the site into a ‘vibrant destination and job creation center.’” Nassau is “preparing to announce a new master developer for the 77-acre site surrounding the Coliseum.” Senior Policy Advisor & Communications Dir Brian Nevin said that a decision was “likely to come next week” (NEWSDAY, 10/25). In N.Y., Chen & Berger cite sources as saying that there were “no financial incentives involved, nor any involvement from the city government,” with the Islanders' move (N.Y. TIMES, 10/25).

LEAVING THE ISLAND: The GLOBE & MAIL’s David Shoalts notes Wang during a press conference yesterday commented about "looking forward to ‘continuing to work with' officials in Nassau -- which gave the impression he may try to negotiate an early end to the Coliseum lease.” Wang said, “Obviously, anything can happen in terms of breaking a lease, but we are committed to finishing and the 2015-16 season will be our first season here” (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/25). Wang said of Barclays Center, “When you have a good alternative, at some point you take the alternative.” Bettman said, “I know firsthand he spent the better part of a decade and tens of millions of dollars in pursuit of a new home for the Islanders." Wang: “We tried everything we could. We wanted to stay there originally. We didn't have the opportunity to do it. Now we have this great, great, great alternative. ... After 12, 13 years, you feel a little bad. It's sort of a bittersweet thing, but at the same time, here, we're home” (NEWSDAY, 10/25). SportsNet N.Y.’s Chris Carlin said, “This is the best possible scenario for a franchise that has been dying on the vine for years.” Carlin noted the “opportunities for Nassau County, for Long Island, to keep the Islanders have been there for years, and they haven’t been able to get the job done.” Carlin told the fan base not to be upset with Wang because he “did the right thing here." Carlin: "They didn’t take this team completely away for you” ("Loud Mouths," SportsNet N.Y., 10/24). 

NET GAINS: Bettman insisted the configuration of Barclays Center for hockey is "not an issue." He said that the “size of the arena would create a superior viewing experience for fans.” Nassau Coliseum currently seats around 16,200 for hockey, and Bettman said the "extra thousand seats aren't going to make that much of a difference." Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark said that added seats “probably would be squeezed into the west end of the rink, perhaps as part of a high-end hospitality area.” On Long Island, Neil Best notes with indications the Islanders “planned to stay in Nassau County, the Barclays Center was built to create the best possible sight lines for basketball.” Rather than “center the hockey rink on the arena floor, it is shifted toward one end, so it is not possible to see the near-side goal from that side of the building, rendering many seats unusable because of obstructed sight lines” (NEWSDAY, 10/25). Meanwhile, the WALL STREET JOURNAL’s Hollander & Brown note that for Ratner, the “arrival of a hockey team will be a big boost for his arena.” He had “long hoped to have a hockey team in addition to the Nets.” A second professional sports team “would strengthen the finances of the project” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 10/25).

ARENA CHANGING THE SPORTS LANDSCAPE: SportsNet N.Y.’s Jonas Schwartz said Barclays Center is “changing the landscape of New York sports.” The N.Y. Daily News’ Bruce Murray noted Barclays Center is changing the city “just by its existence." Murray: "It was never a threat having a team play in East Rutherford, it was never a threat with a team playing out on Long Island. This place is cool, Brooklyn is cool.” However, the arena is "never going to takeover” MSG because “it’s still the Knicks and the Rangers." Murray said, "They’re the teams with cachet ... but there is a real challenge." The N.Y. Daily News’ Pat Leonard said the “completely new dynamic” between the Islanders and Rangers “might create additional marketing for both teams” ("Daily News Live," SportsNet N.Y., 10/24). In N.Y., Filip Bondy writes the Islanders "do not sound particularly afraid about whether their fans will come with them” to Brooklyn. They will “create a new base to fill the modest capacity expected to peak at slightly more than 15,000.” If the NHL “doesn’t shoot itself in the skate boot with more lockouts, there is a very good chance this migration will succeed” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 10/25). But SportsNet N.Y.’s Eamon McAnaney said, “I don’t see it working because ... I don’t see that long-time Long Island fan from Suffolk County bothering to come to Brooklyn. And if you’re a hockey fan in Brooklyn, you’re a Ranger fan” (“The WheelHouse,” SportsNet N.Y., 10/24).

IN OTHER NEWS…
: Bettman said that he “encouraged Wang to close the deal and make the announcement this week, despite the collective bargaining cloud above the NHL.” Bettman said: “Unhappy as we are to be in a CBA (dispute), we have a $3.3 billion business we’re trying to run and improve. So we can’t allow paralysis to the business. We want a league back that is in shape and growing” (TORONTO SUN, 10/25).
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