Despite the hyperbolic headline on this Bloomberg story, the Islanders are not homeless just yet, and won’t be for at least the next two and a half years. But, uh, they might want to get on figuring that out pretty soon, unless they want to be forced to crash on the Rangers’ couch, or be deported to Quebec City.
Here’s the nut:
Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who owns the [Barclays Center] and the Nets, has since November been seeking an investor to take a stake in both. As of earlier this month, a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season — a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said.
An opt-out has always been built into the Islanders’ lease in Brooklyn, a 25-year deal that has a Jan. 31, 2018 deadline for either side to exercise the right to blow the whole thing up. If the Isles want out, they’d be gone in the summer of 2018; if Barclays ownership pushes the button, the Isles would have until summer of 2019 to get out.
What yesterday’s news indicates is that Mikhail Prokhorov is telling prospective investors that he expects to boot out the Islanders, though he hasn’t formally exercised his opt-out clause yet. (A very important thing to keep in mind is that this is an act of very public negotiation. Barclays and the Islanders have until the end of the year to renegotiate their lease teams, and Prokhorov is making it known now that if the Isles don’t want to be scrambling for a home, they’re going to have to sweeten the deal.)
It’s a rough deal now, for everyone. Barclays pays the Islanders a lump sum of $53.5 million each year in exchange for the rights to the business side of operations, meaning that the arena keeps the money for ticket sales, concessions, and sponsorships. But people just aren’t coming to games. The Isles are 28th in the league in attendance, and their numbers are down from last year, their first season at Barclays (when they were also 28th).
Brooklyn was always meant to be a temporary stop for the Islanders, and it shows. It’s not a hockey building—one entire side of the arena is obstructed view. The ice surface is among the worst in the league, largely because the Barclays uses cheaper plastic pipes in its cooling system. The team still practices further out in Nassau County, and so many of the players live there and must commute an uncomfortably long way. The fan base is still centered on Long Island, and the trip in is not a fast or easy one.
So where could the Islanders go? The new owners, Jonathan Ledecky and Scott Malkin, have discussed possible new arena sites near Citi Field or Belmont Park, both of which would be more convenient to fans coming in from Long Island, but both of which would be very tough sells for obtaining public money to construct, especially given the Islanders’ unprofitable track record. The Nassau Coliseum, the team’s old home, is set to reopen this spring after a major renovation, but it’s been downsized to 13,000 seats, too small for an NHL tenant.
That leaves the very strong possibility of relocation, and Quebec City, which lost out in its bid for an expansion team, has a shiny new arena and an eager fan base just waiting.