In 2012, the New York Islanders left the ragged old Nassau Coliseum for the brand new Barclays Center. The Islanders, already operating at a loss, were happy to make a complicated move from Long Island to Brooklyn, where several thousand people had recently been displaced in order to build the new arena. Since the Islanders were already in a dire financial situation, the Barclays Center agreed to pay a lump sum of $53.5 million per year to the Islanders while collecting money for tickets, suites, and sponsorships–probably not the best financial decision for the newest sports franchise in New York City.
Now, due to extremely poor ice management and what Business Insider “the worst seats in professional sports,” the short marriage between the Islanders and the Barclays Center appears to be coming to an end. Several reports in early 2017 reported that the Islanders will not be playing at the Barclays for the 2017-2018 season. Apparently the deal that seemed so advantageous for the Barclays owners has not worked out as they hoped: the Islanders have an average attendance this season of just over 12,000, good for third-lowest in the league. So, the Islanders seem set to say goodbye to an arena that never should have hosted a hockey game.
The important question is where the Islanders go next. They reportedly would like to build their own rink, most likely back on Long Island although they are rumored to be looking in Queens and Belmont as well. The problem with a team building its own arena is that the team’s owner needs to find a lot of money–something the Islanders have very little of. Unless they can get help from outside investors (a group involving Rangers/Knicks/MSG owner James Dolan may be in the mix), the Islanders will most likely ask the local taxpayers for lots of help. This is already an unpleasant situation, as most New York taxpayers aren’t going to enjoy the idea of building a new rink for a disliked, borderline-failing NHL team. However, the negative effect goes further: as I stated, the Barclays Center displaced a huge amount of people when it was built through Eminent Domain. The least the Barclays could do is give back to the community by making money and paying taxes (which they do… barely). The Islanders playing there 41 nights a year means there can be 41 less concerts, basketball games, boxing matches, etc. all of which have consistently brought in significantly more money on an average night than the Islanders. Furthermore, the Nassau Coliseum has lost its only popular team, yet it is still sitting there, slowly falling apart in Long Island:
Now, the Islanders are looking for a new place to play, and getting there won’t be easy. Let’s hope wherever they go, they deviate from their recent history and avoid leaving themselves and everyone in their wake with a financial disaster.