Through 10 games, the New York Islanders have the lowest average attendance in the NHL. So much for “Hello, Brooklyn.”
The Islanders’ move from Long Island to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center was supposed to be hockey’s way into the hearts of New York hipster millennials, but in the team’s third season that vision can so far be considered a failure.
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A look at NHL average attendance figures show the Islanders rank dead last, bringing in 12,379 fans per game. For perspective, that’s 78.3 percent capacity of the house Jay Z built, which rivals fan turnout for the Arizona Coyotes…you know, the team that was almost relocated because of its atrocious attendance figures.
So what’s going on in the concrete jungle?
Oct 30, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs center Zach Hyman (11) plays the puck behind New York Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss (1) during the third period at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Everyone knew Barclays was going to be a basketball-first arena, but perhaps that didn’t indicate just how hockey-last it was going to be. Barclays features a funky, elevated media deck on one end of the ice, located above a Honda vehicle. To reiterate, there is a car where fans should be.
Most teams find it logical to make as many glass seats (read: the most expensive seats) available, but that’s not how they do business in Brooklyn. Corporate sponsorships apparently outweigh fan experience.
Management might as well roll in a couple more whips to fill the growing attendance void in the crowd.
Product on the Ice
The Isles have turned in back-to-back 100-point seasons since relocating to Brooklyn, reaching the playoffs both times. There isn’t much more that fans can ask for than that, but maybe this year’s sub-.500 start is leaving BK residents holding on to their cash until John Tavares and Co. show more promise.
This season’s club will be a much better product for Brooklyn than its basketball counterpart – the Nets – so it’s curious to understand exactly what the mentality is amongst fans. Outside of playoff games, maybe Brooklyn just doesn’t care about live hockey enough for the team to thrive there like originally fantasized by management.
Further research argues that, similarly, maybe it just doesn’t care enough to pay to see live hockey.
New York is an expensive place, but Islanders tickets, surprisingly, aren’t.
According to ticketiQ, the Islanders have significantly lowered their average ticket price for three straight seasons, and now rank 20th in that category at just under $120/seat. By comparison, Rangers tickets run at an average of $317.75/seat.
Maybe Brooklyn just doesn’t care about live hockey enough for the team to thrive there like originally fantasized by management.
The discrepancy between Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center in terms of premium seat availability figures to play a large role in this price differential, but the point is this: Going to an Islanders game should be considered affordable by New York standards.
The lower price point at Barclays, however, does not include the cost of travel now necessary for abandoned Long Islanders to make the venture west each game. This, as it turns out, is part of a larger issue for the organization.
The Long Island fanbase the Islanders left behind at Nassau Coliseum is reaching out to grasp the team’s hand as it further departs, hoping to grab hold and continue their journey together, but the endurance the old loyalists have to keep up with the train is draining, and their longing faces are becoming distant dots on the eastern horizon.
When the Islanders relocated, they also displaced its longest fanbase by about an hour-long car ride and a 90-minute train ride. Long nights 41 times a season is brutal on the body, and a suspected dwindling number of fans willing to endure it is the likely culprit behind the annual decline in ticket sales.
Apr 25, 2015; Uniondale, NY, USA; Fans of the New York Islanders celebrate after the Islanders defeated the Washington Capitals in game six of the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Islanders defeated the Capitals 3-1.Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports
That’s not to say, however, that attendance at Nassau was anything special. Before the team’s recent surge to relevancy, attendance at “The Old Barn” consistently ranked amongst the league’s worst by either pure volume or capacity percentage. Don’t let the playoff crowd image fool you.
So, take a small fan base, dislocate it, and create strenuous conditions to continue their fandom, and the result is an enormous pressure on the team to sell tickets to its new BK community to replace their absence.
Attendance at Barclays is down compared to where it should be, and Brooklyn residents aren’t entirely at fault.
The New York Islanders franchise has a dire need to establish itself as a tradition in its new environment. It’s a tall task for any sports team in a competitive marketplace, but an outstanding effort from players and management alike can catapult the Blue and Orange to the pinnacle it once envisioned.