NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Calling it a “season of learning a lot,” Brett Yormark said he is pleased with the New York Islanders’ first year in Brooklyn.
“We had to make some adjustments,” said Yormark, the Chief Executive Officer for Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment, which oversees business operations and marketing for the Barclays Center, home of the Islanders and the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets.
“I live by the mantra you have to show progress, week to week, month to month, and I think we’ve done that in all areas of the business.”
The Islanders moved to the Brooklyn arena this season after spending their first 43 years at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., on Long Island.
“We’ve made great progress,” Yormark said in a Q&A with Islanders beat reporters before the team’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday night. “We’re excited about the future, we’re excited about the playoffs. It’s been a real positive first year.”
Not every part of the move has gone smoothly. Some fans have taken to social media to vent their frustration with various changes, and Yormark acknowledged arena management has been responsive to the complaints.
Initial plans to change the goal horn to a subway-themed sound was scrapped after its debut in the final preseason game. Fans arriving early to games were accustomed to going up by the glass and watching warmups up close at the Coliseum, but were not allowed to do so at Barclays Center early on until that restriction was eased.
The team’s mascot, Sparky, also was initially scrapped until he was brought back midseason.
“When the fans have asked us to reconsider a point of view that we’ve taken, we’ve been open to that change if it makes sense for all of us,” Yormark said.
There’s also been a lot of attention drawn to some of the arena’s obstructed seats, and Yormark acknowledged he was surprised by the level of vitriol it generated.
“We’re open and transparent. When we announced the Islanders were going to come in (October 2012), we said there was going to be some obstructed seats. It’s not like we said all of a sudden one day, ‘OK, you’re going to come to the building and there’s obstructed seats.’ That’s been public for a couple of years now,” he said. “Why it became such an issue, I’m not sure.”
Yormark said he has not had any discussions about reconfiguring seats, but added there were studies done with engineers to understand what the possibilities are and the disruptions that would be involved.
“We just have to weigh all those things,” he said. “If it makes sense, we’ll always consider it. If there’s ways we can improve the experience, the overall dynamic here, we’ll explore it. We owe it to the fans to do that.”
In a move to improve the fan experience, Yormark said a “hockey-centric” group was brought in to help with game-day presentations at the arena.
“We needed to infuse a little bit more of a hockey culture into our operation because it IS different. And the expectation is different,” he said. “I think once we did that, we started to turn the corner and make some progress.”
There have been seven sellouts this season, with the first on opening night and the rest all coming after Thanksgiving. Fred Mangione, the Chief Operating Officer of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, said attendance was up 35 percent over the previous 10 games.
“I’m happy with the attendance,” Yormark said. “The building has looked much better. The vibe in the building has been much improved.”
The Islanders rank 28th out of 30 NHL teams in home attendance, with an average of 13,484 fans per game — down about 1,850 from last season at the Coliseum. Winnipeg’s MTS Centre is the only NHL arena with a smaller capacity than Barclays Center’s 15,795, but the Jets are 24th in attendance at 15,294.
The Islanders began Monday in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and holding the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, but lost to the Flyers, 4-1. The regular season ends on April 10, and the NHL playoffs are scheduled to begin April 13.
Mangione said the arena is already working with the league on next year’s schedule, with the aim of getting more weekend games. That would be worked out in conjunction with the Nets’ schedule, putting more basketball games during the week.
Yormark said ticket prices will not be increased next year, with reductions for some premium seats.
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