Gallof: Nassau County’s Perpetual Dysfunction Drove The Islanders Away
By B.D. Gallof, WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — As someone who has been writing about the New York Islanders venue situation in-depth for more than five years, it should be known that despite having been in front of the Brooklyn story since back in February, Wednesday’s announcement still came as a surprise.
Most people I spoke to felt that the Islanders, whether they were working on a deal or not, would attempt to keep it from their fans in order to minimize the Nassau County losses and keep people coming to their games until at least the summer of 2014. Logic suggested that owner Charles Wang would desire to stem the tide of loss. He would keep that information from fans over the next two years in order to not lose seating.
Luckily, that did not happen.
At Wednesday’s press conference announcing the Islanders had reached an agreement on a 25-year lease with Barclays Center, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said he asked all parties to announce the deal as soon as it was worked out. Though the timing might have been suspect due to a bleak lockout outlook, many Islanders fans who were following and understanding all too well how precarious their predicament was on Long Island, did not care.
A long roller coaster ride has finally seen a real end point. As I said on Twitter, only a long-term deal was ever an option. Wang wanted this over and done. Thus, announced Wednesday was an “ironclad” deal in Brooklyn that is to start in time for the 2015-16 season.
So, how did we get here?
To the fair weather fan or perhaps former Islanders’ players who did not follow the storylines, it seems a travesty that Nassau has lost its hockey team. But to those who have seen the convoluted politics, infighting, sabotage, and other foul mechanics that have left the county in tremendous debt and with a forlorn archaic venue in disrepair, the proof is there to say Nassau pushed the Islanders out.
Wang offered to build the arena himself, along with an entire refurbishment of the area, as part of a $3 billion privately financed Lighthouse Project proposal, but was rebuffed because he dared to challenge the Town of Hempstead’s illusion of an idyllic suburban sprawl as shops closed and poorer areas under its rule were left in the backseat. Then, as former County Executive Tom Suozzi took his eyes off the “hub” plan and then his own governing, Ed Mangano inherited the mess. He attempted a $400 million referendum to renovate the existing Coliseum, but it failed miserably. Democrats did whatever they could to block, residents became fearful of taxes increasing, and the rest was history.
Mangano quickly flocked to Twitter, issuing the following statement: “No one has done more to retain the New York Islanders than my administration. I have supported various proposals to redevelop the HUB including a public referendum in which voters chose not to construct a new sports arena. It’s sad and unfortunate that political opponents chose to oppose my plan and instead continued to support the Culture of NO on Long Island.”
Though I have been critical of some of their processes and decision-making, the arena situation was none of the Islanders’ making. While Suozzi championed the vision, he failed to deliver expected items and funds back when the Lighthouse Project was still a viable notion. Mangano at least got a referendum going.
I started reporting back in February that momentum was growing in Brooklyn. The Barclays machine was revving up, while the Coliseum engine was breaking down and fading away. The agreement in Brooklyn was the Islanders’ ONLY chance to remain in the area, due to the simple fact that nothing could, would, or was even planned at this juncture to be in place by the end of the 2014-15 season, when the Coliseum lease expires.
People, especially fans, tend to forget the massive losses the Islanders have incurred thanks to the horrific lease deal brokered by former Sen. Al D’Amato and SMG, an agreement that left the Islanders and their owner with no means to derive money from concessions or parking.
Despite alterations made to that lease in recent years, the Islanders have still lost a ton of money, causing them to scale back spending and stick to the embarrassing strategy of dancing with the cap floor, even attempting to sit in a loophole by spending less thanks to bonuses that would never be met by players. That’s something that likely will be eliminated once a new collective bargaining agreement is struck. That is, once the sides actually sit down and negotiate instead of all this ridiculous posturing.
So when Islanders legend Denis Potvin said he was sad over the team moving, you can be sure he simply had not been paying all that much attention. Had Brooklyn not been an option, there was a very high probability the Islanders would eventually no longer be in New York.
Let me repeat that, because it seems like it hasn’t been fully understood or absorbed: If it wasn’t for Brooklyn, the Islanders were likely to move or be sold elsewhere, be it Seattle, Quebec or Kansas City, to name a few. They would not have been sitting and waiting on Nassau County to get its act together.
Nassau County was never an option once it became apparent that government was leaving it to developers to solve a Nassau County problem. Nobody trying to make money would give Wang any kind of competitive deal by sharing revenue when money is the driving force. That logic made no sense, despite all the talk by those trying, even with good intentions, to keep the Islanders at the Coliseum.
That fact is, the Islanders themselves knew it was over in Nassau, and so did Nassau. Don’t believe any hype stating that Mangano or the political machine didn’t see this coming. Ultimately, it was the county’s severe dysfunction that drove the Islanders to look at other options in the hope of becoming solvent. Nassau, which was in debt long before the recession took it deeper, was a dead end and many knew it.
As I wrote here back in May, when addressing the Brooklyn option that the naysayers were quick to hammer with homerism and denial, the following areas of concern needed to be expanded upon in order for Barclays to truly be a realistic option:
• How many more seats can Barclays Center hold? (per Bettman Wednesday, might be as many as 15,500)
• How big 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 (or now 15,500) 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.
No, this was clear-cut for quite a while, and those who spoke and wrote independently of the PR machine of the Islanders and who were active in the venue situation saw this coming for a while. In the coming weeks I will get quotes from those venue-writing stalwarts for their opinion on the Brooklyn move.
In the meantime — and that meantime will be a long three years if the team continues to falter regardless if there is a golden parachute that lands on Atlantic Avenue — celebrate the positives. The Islanders, despite their once-storied history, were near doom. Now they have a new lease on life, and a willingness to spend or use that cap room flexibility in the coming year or two.
Venue certainty is finally here, along with a future that hasn’t been written yet.
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