By Daniel Friedman
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For the Islanders and their fans, the last few weeks (and months) have ushered in the Brooklyn era. Early indications have been, aesthetically, it’s not getting off to a great start.
We all knew this day was coming. We all knew this team was going to Barclays Center and that making the transition would entail both positive experiences and growing pains. But we never expected this. We never expected much of the franchise’s charm and tradition to be left on Hempstead Turnpike.
Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark has promised time and time again to protect and continue the Islanders’ rich tradition. It’s even the central theme of the team’s marketing slogan for the inaugural season in Brooklyn: “Tradition’s New Home.”
And yet, you look at what’s transpired and details that have come to light recently and see little evidence to support that rallying cry.
In fact, what you see suggests that there’s been very little respect for tradition.
Originally, the plan was to completely rebrand the Islanders. After figuring out that fans would prefer that not happen, to put it mildly, the idea was scrapped.
“I use social media, and fans are very adamant and very crystal clear about what they’re looking for as they continue to be fans of the Islanders as the team transitions to Brooklyn,” Yormark said. “During the course of the year, we spent a lot of time going to games (at Nassau Coliseum) to better understand the traditions of Islander hockey and see which should come with the team to Brooklyn.”
It took severe fan backlash to get all of the division and conference championship banners in the Barclays rafters. It took a massive reaction to scrap the idea of completely rebranding the team.
The new alternate jersey wasn’t such a big deal, but the new goal horn is brutal and, more importantly, it’s a new goal horn. There was no reason to change it. It was arguably the best one in the league and it’s something with which Islanders fans can (and want to) identify.
After what these fans have been through, and how they’ve taken it upon themselves to try and embrace Brooklyn, they have the right to complain about a goal horn. They have the right to say this is a big deal, especially since Barclays Center brass initially told fans the original goal horn would be brought along to Brooklyn. It turns out that was just a bunch of baloney, so I don’t blame the fans one bit for being peeved.
Fans have also reportedly been turned away from lower bowl seats for warmups, unless they have tickets in those sections. That was a Nassau Coliseum pastime and, frankly, something that fans are allowed to do in most NHL arenas. It’s not just an Islanders tradition; it’s a hockey tradition.
Even the division banner thing was a big deal. If you win the division and can’t hang a banner to recognize that feat in your home rink, it’s not much of a home rink.
If the Nets won the division, would they not hang a banner?
You’ll tell me the Isles aren’t the primary tenant and I’ll tell you that’s not the point. That’s not how you treat a co-tenant that plays just as many games in that building a season as you do. That’s not how you treat a fan base when you promised to maintain tradition. That’s simply unacceptable.
“The banners of the team’s four Stanley Cup championships and the retired Islander jersey numbers will hang as permanent fixtures at the Barclays Center and will pay tribute to the rich history of Islanders hockey,” said Yormark. “We obviously want people to come into the building for preseason games and opening night and feel like, boy, nothing has really changed. Maybe the address has changed but the feeling you get hasn’t.”
We’re not up to opening night yet, but after a few preseason dress rehearsals, people have come into the building, and both the address and feeling have changed. The sentiment has changed. There’s uncertainty as to how far Barclays Center will go with these types of things, and just how long the team’s historic brand has left before it’s completely replaced. Yormark has promised that won’t happen, but you can’t help but fill in the word “yet” every time you hear him say that.
This is a fragile fan base right now. There needs to be a certain amount of respect and sensitivity shown towards Islanders fans and, so far, it hasn’t happened.
Barclays Center had years to brush up and get ready for this team’s arrival, and it seems to me that Yormark & Co. have been woefully unprepared. They’re like that kid who realizes he has a test the next day and that he should probably study for it. How can you claim to have spent the last few years doing your homework, only to do things (or contemplate doing things) you know won’t go over well with Islanders fans?
Never mind the fact this building should’ve been built for both sports all along. How could they not see this coming? As soon as they put a shovel in the ground I knew the Isles were either getting a new building in Nassau or going to Brooklyn.
Some things do change when you move to a more controlled, more corporate environment. But some things – like tradition – are better left unchanged, depending on the situation.
Barclays Center’s marketing machine has done some great things. It has marketed the Islanders more aggressively than anyone else has in decades, and it is committed to making a push. But mistakes have been made, and in too many cases already, tradition hasn’t been respected.
This fan base complains a lot, most of the time over nothing. Not this time. This time, it’s completely justified.
Barclays Center promised to bridge the gap between Long Island and Brooklyn, and, like its scoreboard, it’s attempt has been off-center. Yormark is playing with fire, because he’s dealing with a fan base that is fiercely proud of its heritage and is passionate – but that passion can work both ways. If he wants to channel that energy in the right direction, he needs to be more sensitive and respectful of what those fans and the team they cheer for represent.
Tradition’s new home? I’ll believe it when I see it.
Follow Daniel Friedman on Twitter at @DFriedmanOnNYI