Islanders keep Long Island feel in Brooklyn debut
NEW YORK (AP) Step aside, Jay Z. Pack up the nets. It’s time to roll out the blue-and-orange carpet in Brooklyn.
The home of Hannah Horvath and her hipster friends is set to sound the horn for the arrival of John Tavares and the New York Islanders.
Fans, make sure there’s a MetroCard tucked in the wallet next to the game ticket. There’s a new way to travel on game night – by subway, by train, and probably with an Islander or two along for the ride.
The Brooklynization of the Islanders at the Barclays Center is underway.
Led by the Blue and Orange Army – the hardcore fans who will ”Rock the Barc!” every night – the Islanders know the generational loyalists will follow them about 30 miles to their new home.
But will Brooklyn get off the stoop and head to the rink?
The Islanders fled their outdated, lovable dump of a home in Uniondale, New York, for a fresh start at the state-of-the-art Barclays Center. So far, the Islanders have every reason to feel right at home.
Stanley Cup banners hang from the rafters, and the arena is wrapped in Islanders’ imagery. John Tavares and teammates have their faces plastered all over the building, nearby businesses, and subway terminals.
Alexa Ray Joel is set to sing the national anthem before the opener on Friday night and there will be other nods toward the franchise’s past – all with an eye set on the future.
”We’re asking the fanbase to be with us along the way because we may do some other things that Brooklynizes the in-game experience,” Barclays Center COO Fred Mangione said. ”There will always be a nice balance and that’s our goal.”
The Islanders are entering their first season at the Barclays Center – home to the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets since 2012 – after spending their first 43 years at Nassau Coliseum.
But if the Nets underwent a total reboot, from name to logo to jersey colors, this transition is more like Islanders 2.0.
Brooklyn remained true to the Islanders’ roots and brought along some Coliseum staples that should appeal to the traditionalists.
– Paul Cartier will play the organ just as he’s done since the Stanley Cup heyday.
– The four Stanley Cup Championship banners and six retired jersey banners will hang in the rafters, along with the banners of former head coach Al Arbour and former GM Bill Torrey.
– The Islanders super-fan group, the Blue and Orange Army, will pack sections 228 and 229.
The Islanders listened to focus groups and beefed up train service with a Barclays Center Direct line, adding two additional direct pre- and postgame trains. The two postgame trains will leave 20 minutes after the end of each game, regardless of when the final horn sounds.
Oh yes, that horn.
The Islanders’ plan to abandon their traditional goal horn with one that sounded like a subway horn was panned by fans during preseason games and abruptly scrapped.
The balance between old and new remains a work in progress.
”With 80 percent of our patrons taking a subway, you’d think they’d get the connection,” Mangione said. ”But look, the tradition outweighed the connection and we understood that. We met on that right away.”
The Islanders also irked some fans – yet likely made some new ones – with the black and white third jersey they will wear 12 times this season. The jersey kept the four stripes that pays homage to the championships, yet scrubbed the skyline that omits Brooklyn and Queens.
”Our group always understood this change was a lot better than a Kansas City or a Quebec move,” said Blue and Orange member James Fess. ”The cause is still the same, only the building has changed.”
While arena and team officials touted the parking lots around the arena, The Blue and Orange Army have ditched the cars this season for Traingating. The pregame party starts on the line and rolls right into Barclays.
Who will join them?
Brooklyn is loaded with transplants, who after flocking to the big city, found they couldn’t afford Manhattan. Or they’re new-wave hipsters who think Brooklyn is cool because of the art culture and TV shows such as HBO’s ”Girls.”
Just how much of an interest they’ll take in hockey remains to be seen.
Jay Pichardo, 47, of Queens, New York, wasn’t so sure as he stood in line this week at the arena’s box office to buy tickets for a Rangers-Islanders game.
”They’re going to have show more interest in the community because they’re new,” said Pichardo, a season-ticket holder for the Rangers. ”I don’t think kids here in Brooklyn even care about hockey. In Long Island, it was all about the families.”
Islanders CEO Brett Yormark said about one-third of the season ticket holders are from the Brooklyn/Manhattan boroughs, another third from the Isles’ old stomping grounds in Nassau and Suffolk county and the rest from Connecticut, New Jersey and other areas.
He wants the fans inside the arena to represent all of New York.
”We need to diversity the fanbase here in Brooklyn,” Yormark said. ”For us to be successful, our fanbase needs to look very different than any other fanbase. We need to reflect the makeup of our borough. We do it for Nets games, we do it for most of our events.”
The Barclays Center will have a capacity less than 16,000 for hockey, putting it at the second-smallest in the NHL behind Winnipeg’s MTS Centre.
It won’t be the cheapest ticket in the game.
”The average ticket price was about $45,” in Long Island, Yormark said. ”In our building, it’s about $90. I thought, oh my God, they aren’t going to come. They wouldn’t pay for it. But people will pay whatever you need them to pay for something as long as the value proposition is aligned.”
The arena wasn’t built for hockey and many seats have obstructed sightlines. The rink is off center and sales reps walked potential season tickets holders around the sections to find the right fit.
”Getting people’s money is a big commitment for us,” Mangione said, ”but the bigger commitment is getting someone’s time.”
Joseph Rosa, 28, of Queens, New York, said at the Barclays Center the wrong seat might not make season tickets worth it for 44 games each season.
”They’re the worst seats ever,” he said.
The Islanders still have to spread the news they’re in town. The motto above the register at the Modell’s across the street from the arena references the Nets in a sign that reads, ”Brooklyn Now Has a Home Team.”
The sporting goods store welcomed the Islanders with open arms – and cash registers – upping the number of merchandise racks from two to seven this season and adding prominent window displays. Tavares jerseys and the new black-and-white jerseys hang in window space also devoted to baseball playoff gear for the Mets and Yankees.
”We have a lot of tourists coming in looking for Islanders gear,” store general manager Nick Chang said.
At the Buffalo Wild Wings a block from Barclays, no Islanders memorabilia was displayed on the walls, which included posters or beer signs representing nearly every other New York team – including the new MLS team, New York City FC.
The Islanders are locked into a 25-year lease with the Barclays Center, though it hasn’t stopped speculation they will eventually return to their former home.
While the ”The Old Barn” sits empty as it undergoes a multimillion makeover, Nassau county executive Ed Mangano riled up the borough when he went on sports talk radio station WFAN and said, ”I certainly do believe that we will see the return of the Islanders at some point.”
The Islanders say, not a chance.
The team’s headquarters and practice facility remain on Long Island, where the players continue to live. Tavares and his teammates will commute on the Long Island Rail Road to Barclays, just like the fans.
”We’ll miss the Coliseum, the crowd and that sort thing, but it’s not even a level playing field when you compare this facility to the Coliseum,” Islanders general manager Garth Snow said.