Charles Wang says he moved the New York Islanders to Brooklyn because he simply ran out of time in his efforts to build a new arena. He ran out of patience a long time ago.
Even before residents of Nassau County soundly defeated a bid for $400-million (U.S.) in bonds to build a new arena in a referendum in August of 2011, the Islanders owner said his NHL team would never play another game at aging Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum when its lease expires in 2015.
On Wednesday, Wang announced the Islanders will open the 2015-16 NHL season in the New York borough of Brooklyn at the new Barclays Center, joining the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets as a major tenant. Also on hand were NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and developer Bruce Ratner (majority owner of the Barclays Center).
Wang said the decision was made because there was no longer enough time to build a new arena in Nassau (the team’s home since 1972) for the Islanders before their current lease is up.
The franchise owner turned aside any speculation the announcement was another attempt to squeeze a new arena out of Nassau, saying he had signed an “iron-clad” 25-year lease to play in Brooklyn. He will continue to be the sole owner of the Islanders, and its logo and name will remain the same.
However, Wang did make a remark 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.
“I have said consistently, we will honour our 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.”
The move also ends any chance of the Islanders moving out of the New York area to Quebec City, Kansas City or Seattle. Ratner called Wang “a hero,” because “Charles got offers to move team out of our state, very good offers. And Charles wouldn’t do that.”
However, some questions remain.
The Barclays Center seats almost 18,000 for basketball, but a hockey configuration has a capacity of about 14,500.
Both Ratner and Wang have said enough revenue can be made from the smaller number to work for an NHL team. But this does not seem suitable in the long-term, even though the Islanders will probably lose less than the $20-million annually they do in their current home. (They also have one of the richest local cable television deals in the NHL, which brings in more than $20-million per year.)
However, Bettman said there are no plans for a major arena renovation, although he has been discussing with Wang and Ratner ways to increase the seating for hockey to a little more than 15,000. He noted this would give the arena roughly the same capacity as the MTS Centre, the home of the Winnipeg Jets and currently the smallest arena in the NHL. It would be roughly 1,250 seats less than the Nassau Coliseum.
“We don’t think the thousand seats make a difference,” Bettman said.
There is also the matter of the 25-year lease with Ratner. NHL owners routinely say they cannot survive unless they receive most of their arena’s revenue, from other events to luxury boxes, concessions and parking. No details of the Islanders lease were given, but it would appear the team is strictly a tenant.
This led to speculation Wang, who has been sole owner of the team since 2004, may sell the Islanders by 2015, or come to some sort of partnership with Ratner.
Wang dismissed such talk. “I will continue to own the Islanders,” he said.