By Peter Schwartz
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When the Islanders announced back in 2012 that they would be relocating to the Barclays Center for this season, it was pretty much a given that the team would have some sort of black and white jersey to match the Nets.
But what Islanders fans did not want was for the team to toss aside the blue and orange or the traditional logo.
The end result was a black and white third jersey that the team will wear 12 times starting with the Nov. 3 game against the Devils. The jersey was created two years ago, but was kept under lock and key until the official unveiling during training camp.
“We’ve been very happy with it,” said Fred Mangione, COO of Barclays Center. “We’re starting to see some celebrities and some athletes out there wearing the jersey because of not only what it stands for but it’s a cool look.”
The new jersey works off of the very successful “Stadium Series” jersey with the “NY” logo that the Islanders wore for the outdoor game at Yankee Stadium two seasons ago and subsequently became a third jersey last season. The jersey also features four white stripes on the sleeves to commemorate the team’s four Stanley Cup titles.
What the Islanders did was mix the traditions of their 43-year run on Long Island with a little something new for a new era in Brooklyn.
“It was taking their best-selling jersey, taking the tradition of the stripes, taking the stick, taking the orange and blue in the collar and on the inseam and then just putting Brooklyn on the bottom,” said Mangione. “There’s a little bit of everything.”
The jersey was a collaborative effort between Barclays Center, the Islanders’ hockey operations, the NHL and Reebok. While fan reaction is important, and we’ll get to that in just a bit, the team had to be comfortable with it and it sounds like that was the case with the new black-and-white sweater.
When the jersey was created, general manager Garth Snow and the players gave it a thumbs up.
“(Garth) was on board and together we came up with this concept,” Mangione said. “The great news is that you always want to start with the product and the players love it, so that is great.”
When it comes to new jerseys, the Islanders have had some hits and misses with their fans over the years.
The ill-fated fisherman jersey lasted just two years and represents a dark period of Islanders history. There was a successful orange third jersey that was very popular with the fans, but there was also a black third jersey a few years ago that was not a hit with Islanders Country.
So what has the reaction been to the new third jersey?
There was a poor reaction when a picture of the jersey on a hangar was leaked by a website. I’ll admit that I hated it when I saw the picture and then I showed it to my 9-year-old, Bradley, and he didn’t care for it either. Since kids are a very important demographic, I thought the jersey was doomed for failure.
But my opinion, as well as my son’s opinion, changed when the jersey was officially unveiled on Sept. 16. The opinion of others must have changed as well as the jersey has been one of the top sellers in the NHL and there has also been a good reaction to other third jersey merchandise like hats and T-shirts.
“On opening night we sold out of it and we had to go to the NHL Store and bring some more of it in,” Mangione said. “The black-and-white stuff has been very successful at the games, which we anticipated, and the guys haven’t even worn it yet.”
With the debut of the third jersey coming up, OYO Sports has come up with a limited edition series of mini-figures featuring the black-and-white look. The company launched on Oct.9 at select retail locations, with the initial figures shipped to the Islanders team store at Barclays Center and the NHL Store.
“It’s an exciting product and I think it looks great,” said Shari Fabiani, senior VP of product and marketing for OYO Sports. “It’s an opportunity to showcase something new.”
There are a few players that are available in the black and white jerseys, including John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Matt Martin.
Naturally, there are many fans who don’t like the new jerseys. While the Islanders’ new home can appreciate the passion of the fans, the move to Brooklyn has to be a mix of old and new.
The hope is that, in time, the fan base will come around to the new.
“(The fans) don’t want to see any change with all of the traditions and everything we’ve done,” Mangione said. “We totally understand that, but we also feel that once they see the jersey and once they see it live and their idols are wearing it as it comes to life on the ice, I think they’ll understand why it was done.”
The biggest fear among traditional Islanders fans is that the team will eventually ditch the blue and orange altogether and switch permanently to the black and white uniforms.
Throughout the Islanders’ 43-year history at Nassau Coliseum, there were plenty of ups and downs. There were also a number of uniform changes, but blue and orange was always the constant, even in the fisherman jerseys.
So what if the new black and white jerseys become really popular?
Would the Islanders adopt the colors full-time?
“No,” said Mangione. “That was never even talked about and nor would we ever do that. We’re not changing the blue and orange and the tradition and especially that logo that means so much to the fan base. That will not happen. We’re not touching that logo, we’re not touching the team colors, and we’re not touching any of the primary assets that this great club with these traditions has.”
The move to Barclays Center has signaled a new era in Islanders history and for 12 games the team will sport black-and-white uniforms at their new digs. The team hasn’t even worn them yet and there are already a good number of people who are coming to games in the alternate colors.
Just like the move to Brooklyn itself, the third jersey will take some getting used to and that’s understandable. Change is hard to handle sometimes, but in this case, it’s only for a handful of games. Barclays Center has welcomed the Islanders with open arms and it has rolled up its sleeves to market the team to both the existing fan base and to the new fans that have jumped on board.
So far, Barclays has done an admirable job mixing the old and the new. The black-and-white third jerseys that debut next Tuesday are a perfect example of that.
Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @pschwartzcbsfan. You can also follow @NYIslanders, @barclayscenter, and @OYOSports.