NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — It will be an odd arrangement, but it’s a safe bet the vast majority of fans will absolutely love it.
With a cast of luminaries on hand, Gov. Andrew Cuomo confirmed Monday during a news conference that the Islanders have reached an agreement with Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment to play 60 home games at refurbished Nassau Coliseum between the start of next season and when the Belmont Park arena is completed. They will continue to play the remainder of their home games at Barclays Center.
Cuomo said the club’s new building in Elmont is expected to open in time for the start of the 2021-22 season.
“The Islanders coming back to the Island is like the cherry on the cake, because the Island is coming back,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo didn’t get too specific, but Newsday reported that the Islanders will play 12 games at the Coliseum in 2018-19 and a combined 48 regular and preseason games the following two seasons.
“Welcome back Islanders, first and foremost … this is not your old Coliseum,” said Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment CEO Brett Yormark.
Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky said fans interested in getting tickets for the games at the Coliseum need only call 844-ISLES. It is assumed all the specifics will be explained by the Islanders ticket department.
“Let’s rock the barn!” Ledecky said.
Ledecky had said on numerous occasions the Islanders would play their home games during the 2018-19 season at Barclays Center, which the team has called home since ending its 42-year relationship with Nassau Coliseum at the end of the 2014-15 season. However, the club had been trying to amend its lease with Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, which operates both Barclays and the Coliseum.
Now it’s clear that common ground has been found. And the timing is important because originally the Isles and BSE were contractually obligated to complete the opt-out process on the team’s 25-year lease by Tuesday.
Yormark said the Islanders will take back business operations following the 2018-19 season. The Islanders and Barclays currently have an unusual agreement in which the arena pays the team $53.5 million a year in exchange for business operations, which includes tickets and suite sales.
During the Islanders’ glory years in the early 1980s, the Coliseum was a fortress, nicknamed “Fort Neverlose” by the fans. Though the franchise suffered through turmoil in later years, the overwhelming sentiment has always been that the Isles are a Long Island team. And though former owner Charles Wang made the deal to move the team to Brooklyn, a decision that very well could have prevented the franchise from relocating outside the New York City market, Barclays Center has proven to be a less-than-ideal home.
Though a state-of-the-art facility, Barclays was not constructed with hockey in mind. The home of the NBA’s Nets offers scattered obstructed-view seats for hockey, a major point of contention between the fans and the building’s operators. Also, the paying public has long griped about mass transit being really the only feasible way to get from points east to Brooklyn. The Coliseum, on the other hand, was long known for being easily accessible by car, which led to a highly enjoyable tailgating experience.
On top of all that, fans have often said Barclays’ operators have never understood hockey, specifically the traditions that are associated with the gameday experience.
All of those complaints have contributed to the Islanders, who are currently in the hunt for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, having an average attendance of just 12,059 per night this season, far below the 15,500 capacity the building has for hockey and last among all NHL teams.
As for the refurbished Coliseum, it is expected to hold only 13,300 for hockey, though it has been reported more seats could be squeezed in if necessary. Its sight lines were said to be second to none among NHL arenas, and opposing players often made it clear there was no more difficult place to play when the Islanders were good.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman had long spoken out against the idea of the Islanders playing games at their old home, but of late has softened that stance.
Earlier this month, Bettman, along with Ledecky, Yormark, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Long Island Association CEO Kevin Law, reportedly toured the arena. Not long after, Ledecky appeared on WFAN’s “Boomer & Gio” show and said there were further renovations required at the Coliseum to make it NHL compliant. However, he added that any decision regarding the Islanders playing there in the future was up to the league.
Cuomo confirmed on Monday that the state will help pay for the specific modifications the Coliseum will need.