By B.D. Gallof, WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — It’s tough to be a hockey fan on Long Island. Any poor schlub who has watched the Islanders’ glory fade from the walls of Nassau Coliseum will tell you this. It has been a slow, long and painful death that has only been occasionally alleviated by a pawn shop defibrillator.
Despite the endless insanity, the psyche of the Islanders’ following has turned into a mush of half-expected hope and salvation and a group expecting a deathblow. The idea of continued NHL hockey on Long Island conjures images of the good ‘ol days that featured 8-track tape players, Daisy Dukes and quality George Lucas movies.
So, as another rather unremarkable season has come and gone, featuring disappointments and unresolved issues, the larger venue situation has actually climbed to stratospheric heights with a gaping chasm between Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano’s administration and the Islanders, threatening a very large reality that this team will no longer be in Nassau County, much less Long Island, once its lease runs out following the 2014-15 season.
If you have read this column, you have read the many sourced quotes behind the scenes from both parties. The content of said quotes has NEVER been good as far as the marriage between the Islanders and Long Island have been concerned.
Here’s a little bit of history: We can start with the silliness with the Town of Hempstead and the Lighthouse Project. We all know how that went. So let us flash forward, past constantly raised expectations and inevitable disappointments created by those who run the team, the municipalities involved and probably everyone else in between who stood there as bystanders.
Let us instead go to the dropping of the puck by former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi at the start of the 2009 NHL season, back when team owner Charles Wang placed his fortunes with his biggest enabler, the guy who always had a vision for the hub.
What transpired was a politicizing of something that was never a Democratic or Republican issue. The Town of Hempstead might have been a GOP stronghold, but most Long Island Republicans were not against the development of the hub. They instead stood by as a town and a GOP head played political football. Many Republicans I spoke to at that time would not speak against the Lighthouse Project. That, of course, all changed after the plan fell apart . Then their concern became Long Island needing the sports venue in addition to a convention engine.
But when Wang watched his savior lose his next election, there was no attempt to reach out to the new Nassau County exec. In fact, I wrote about this issue, warning of future problems that would lead to a larger disconnect. Sadly, that has happened.
It wasn’t until years later that Ed Mangano, who was staring at hundreds of millions in debt, yet on a no-tax platform, needed something to turn things around, to create some sort of money maker. It was then that power brokers with the Islanders perked up and started to warm to the idea that perhaps Mangano could lead them to the Promised Land.
But then came the Aug. 1, 2011 voter referendum, a massively political and ultimately doomed undertaking.
That referendum failed so spectacularly and miserably, it sent messages to both the county executive’s administration and the Islanders’ owner that expected support simply wasn’t there.
We can go through the reasons, the economic realities, the fact that fans have turned away, that Democrats fighting it were more effective than many care to admit, or that union support was not as massive for it as they all wanted to believe.
When the referendum failed, the Islanders again returned to their silent treatment of the county. Nassau sat back and then called the team’s bluff by meeting new developers interested in the area. The Islanders then snapped into some sort of half-action.
It’s a show. And those in Nassau who have watched it have long given up on anything substantial being worked out between the team and this administration.
There are two undeniable truths that have come from all these antics and inactions:
1. Nassau County will no longer have a professional hockey team after the 2014-2015 season
2. Part of that is due to the Islanders wanting that since Aug. 1, 2011, as evidenced by them standing pat and silent
As readers here know, sources from the Mangano administration have long been saying that the marriage between team and county is over. The Isles are more likely to move to Brooklyn than anything else. In fact, as a source told me just last week in no uncertain terms, “It’s over brother. Mark it…they are outta here.”
Well, sadly, this finality was just as inevitable as an LIRR train signal problem. And it is not just county representatives that have felt and continue to feel this way.
I have learned that the Islanders organization, including the top brass, from the owner to the board of governors, has ceased to feel that Nassau County is part of their future.
Any lip service given otherwise is just that — lip service.
The real talk is in the actions, like the actions of Barclays Center head Bruce Ratner, who immediately ran to the NHL offices last summer, or like the date set by Quebec for their new arena to be completed, the exact date of the end of the Islanders’ lease in Nassau.
Make no mistake, real players have been mobilizing.
The final death knell came from the NHL, which finally put forth its first knowledgeable and succinct voice on the subject following all the years it just stood by as Long Island watched this mad roller coaster operate.
“We’re continuing to explore and look at the options. But it’s clear that Nassau County and the Town of Hempstead don’t seem to be invested in having a new arena in the place that probably makes the most sense, namely where the Nassau Coliseum is,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said recently.
You cannot remain hopeful of something neither side is looking to bring back from the dead. Another quote from Bettman was this jewel on Wang, who is the main person who decided that the Lighthouse Project go dark and who chose to stand pat upon the referendum failure.
“But he wants to do the right thing for the fans on Long Island. Let’s be clear: He bought the Islanders to have them on Long Island. But he’s not getting a lot of help or cooperation,” Bettman said.
I am afraid those words just don’t fit with the reality. That was the reality of three or four years ago.
I believe Wang would have loved to stay if either party had not deliberately submarined his attempt to do so. And, ladies and gentlemen, Nassau County’s fortune will not be suddenly changing, thereby changing Wang’s mind. The county is in massive debt with a governor-run oversight committee watching every dollar spent.
What people seem to have forgotten is even if the referendum had passed, it would have likely been struck down by a very offended and annoyed NIFA, the watchdog group that would have cut the checks.
This thing, for choice a better term, was doomed from the start.
Wang recently went on TV with Howie Rose to talk to fans about hope and trying to get something done, but his lips moved and no actions followed. This has happened before. The actions he hinted at continue to occur outside Nassau County and the Islanders’ front office.
With that silence, unfortunately, you get the nut brigade, individuals who say that because Wang owns the Marriott he’ll never leave, despite the more than $250 million he’s lost and average $10 million in losses he incurs yearly.
Then there are the crazies who insist this whole thing is all a conspiracy orchestrated by Rangers owner Charles Dolan.
All of this is a fantasy for those who act like they are 12 years old and ignore simple facts of business, and, of course, the fact that Wang and Dolan are friends. They also seem to forget that Dolan’s channel needs the programming and makes a ton of dough thanks to all the hockey broadcasts. Sometimes the idiots living in basements should avoid talking about business.
There are other things that have been misrepresented, including in Brooklyn, which, as things stand right now, remains the Islanders’ only true New York City area suitor.
How many more seats can the Barclays Center hold?
How much will the Islanders’ potential piece of Barclay’s MASSIVE luxury suites be?
What will be their take of parking, concessions and merchandise?
And, remember, those 14,500 seats will be priced 25 percent higher than the seats at the Coliseum, which would be equivalent to 17,300 Coliseum seats.
In addition, the Brooklyn market allows for the cable deal to continue, AND it allows for the possibility that the next TV deal be, in fact, even larger.
So, perhaps we should let the business people figure this all out and stop playing games. I say this because when you step back and look at what is really going on here, a far different scenario is playing itself out. The public negotiation has already begun with Bettman playing hardball for his cash-leaking owner by raising his concerns about Brooklyn for Long Island fans.
Brooklyn has been responding publicly and often. I get the impression it will also ante up privately. There is a long way to go and there will be no quick resolution simply due to the fact that the current arena lease continues onward, and where there is time to waste, time is usually wasted.
But make no mistake, Brooklyn is very real and it wants the Brooklyn Islanders. Nassau fans waiting for a miracle will be just stuck watching a show that has long fled town.
Read more columns by B.D. Gallof
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