In 2012, the lowly and unpopular New Jersey Nets decided to pack up and head to the brand new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, thus becoming the “Brooklyn Nets.” They changed their team, their colors, and evidently their coolness factor as well.
Once an unpopular and seemingly hopeless franchise, the Nets have been revitalized and look to contend for the Eastern Conference title in the NBA this season (although having a billionaire owner who is willing to throw money at you doesn’t hurt either). Over in Long Island, there is another team from another sport looking to make the switch as well. The New York Islanders entered the league in 1972 and had a first season much like other expansion teams’ first seasons. They went 12-60-6 that year, yet quickly rose to prominence later that decade as they made the playoffs several times. Perhaps the high point in the history of the Islanders occurred in the early ’80s, as between 1979-1983 they won four straight Stanley Cup Titles. However, things did not get much better from there, and the Islanders haven’t won a playoff series since 1993. This season, the Islanders have been fairly competitive so far, however, it seems as if the team’s success has nothing to do with this move.
So why exactly are the Islanders moving? The real problem is The Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the arena they have been playing in since their inception. Many consider the Nassau Coliseum to be run down and in dire need of renovation. It is currently the second oldest hockey arena in the NHL, the first being Madison Square Garden. The first attempt at renovating the Coliseum came in 2004, yet despite Nassau County approving the construction with a 16-2 vote, approval from the town that houses the Coliseum was never granted to the team. In 2011, there was a proposal to replace the arena, but Nassau County rejected this proposal by a 57-43 percent margin. Thus, last October, when the Islanders realized their lease of the building would be up after the 2014-2015 season, they announced their move to the Barclays Center.
Let me be the first to say, I love the Barclay’s Center. I am a Nets fan who was thrilled with the move of my team; it gave them a new identity, broadened their fanbase, and actually helped attract players from other teams. The Nets became something they never were: cool. The arena itself is sleek and gorgeous. I have been there for a Nets game and two concerts and have enjoyed my experiences tremendously. That being said, this is not the right move for the Islanders. The Nets and Islanders were in extremely different situations.
The Nets moved mostly because they desperately needed to change their image. They were losing and they would continue to lose. Their fanbase was abysmal to say the very least. They relocated not because they had to, but because management wanted to. And rightfully so. The Islanders’ case is much trickier. Although they have not been too successful in terms of wins and losses over the past years, their fanbase is rock solid. The fans look fondly upon the Coliseum. They meet, tailgate, and cheer on their lovable team. In other words, there is a culture associated with the Coliseum.
There is also another glaring problem. Despite being a world class arena, the Barclays Center is not built for hockey. It just simply was not intended to be played there. Most evident by this is the fact that a full NHL-sized hockey rink does not fit inside the arena without having a large number of seats on one side of the arena removed. Various seats also have obstructed viewing of the game itself. This thus impacts the size of the arena, making it the second smallest venue for professional hockey in the NHL.
The first test of this impending departure occurred just a month ago when the Islanders matched up against the Devils and lost 3-0 in a preseason contest in Brooklyn. Despite a few positive comments, the reaction of fans was mixed to negative. While some praised the lighting and the quality of the arena itself, they mainly were upset about having to watch their team there. This is something that is quite understandable. The Nassau Coliseum was part of the culture for Islanders fans. It was like their home rather than just a venue for their team. Things felt comfortable and familiar. Long time fans complained about the long and expensive commute (an obvious issue for those who may have lived five minutes away in the past) as well as the loss of nostalgia for the dedicated fans.
Some claimed it felt “fake” or more like a dream, while others simply didn’t want to see their team move. Luckily, this is merely a location change and not a complete re-branding like what was done for the Nets. Islanders fans will be pleased to know that their team will retain its original colors of orange, blue, and white, as well as the name “New York” rather than “Brooklyn” on their jerseys. There will, however, be an alternate black and white jersey that the team will wear on certain occasions. Looking on the bright side, there is currently a plan in place for a renovation of the Nassau Coliseum. Approved unanimously on September 24 this year, this plan would reduce the arena’s size and make internal refurbishments to the space as a whole.
Perhaps there is hope yet?