By now the New York Islanders and their fans should be turning the page from the final season at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum and gearing towards the team’s inaugural season at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Like it or not, the Islanders are moving to Brooklyn and I have a hunch that it’s not going to be a brief stay. Remember, the Islanders almost moved to Kansas City so we might as well embrace the move to Brooklyn.
With all of that said, let’s explore what the move to Brooklyn means for the Islanders brand from an image standpoint. If you’re a New York sports fan, you’ve seen at least one (probably two) of your teams move from one stadium that was seemingly falling apart, into a new state-of-the-art building by now. What makes the Islanders move different is the Jets, Giants, Yankees and Mets all moved into their new homes across the street from their old homes. The Islanders moving to a place with a completely different culture and vibe from the suburbs of Long Island.
Brooklyn is New York City’s up-and-coming borough and the Islanders are young and budding into one of the best teams in the NHL, which makes now the perfect time for the move as the team looks to take things to the next level in 2015-16. Once considered a dangerous and undesirable area to inhabit, Brooklyn is now the place to be for young and hip people due to its cultural progression and opportunities.
In a way, the same could be said about the Islanders. Before the team announced in 2012 that they would be moving to Brooklyn, the Islanders were about as undesirable as could be. Ownership was inept and the team was consistently finishing at the bottom of the barrel of the NHL standings. The Islanders seemed like a dead end franchise that would soon no longer exist.
It was nearly impossible to convince free agents to come to Long Island to play in an arena that was falling apart with outdated facilities when so many other teams could offer state-of-the-art (or at least not falling apart) amenities.
Not to mention the cost of living on Long Island is outrageous.
Many Long Islanders (myself included) are leaving or have already left the Island to live more comfortably somewhere where the cost of living is much more reasonable. Granted a professional hockey player can afford that cost of living, but from a living standpoint, a player could get much more bang for their buck elsewhere.
In the same way that Brooklyn transformed itself into a place of intrigue, the Islanders are now suddenly an attractive landing spot for players on the move via free agency or trade. Although the final year at the barn ended somewhat in disappointment, the Islanders merely planted the seeds for what was to come in Brooklyn. Now they can sell the idea of playing alongside John Tavares on a team that’s ready to win now in a beautiful brand new arena to high-profile free agents.
As far as their actual image goes, I don’t expect much to change at first. The team already announced they will be continuing forward as the ‘New York Islanders’ and that they will not be changing their uniforms. In due time, I’m sure they will introduce an alternate third jersey to commemorate the move and their inaugural season in Brooklyn. However, I don’t see any jersey superseding their traditional blue trimmed in orange and white home jerseys.
A vast majority of season ticket holders for this season were also longtime season ticket holders at the Coliseum. The people of Barclays Center know that and they are working with the team to make the transition as smooth as possible and to make Barclays Center feel as close to home for Islanders fans as possible.
The committee has been using the offseason to decide which traditions at the Coliseum should make the move with the Islanders to Brooklyn and which ones should stay behind. The retired numbers that hung from the rafters in Nassau have already made their way from the barn to Brooklyn. However, the same unfortunately cannot be said for Billy Joel’s eight sold out shows banner.
As is the case when any team moves into a brand new building, ticket prices naturally go up and become unaffordable for the average Joe, who are usually the biggest supporters of the team. Unfortunately, a lot of the seats occupied by blue collar workers at the barn will now be filled by corporate businessmen. But that doesn’t mean you won’t still see the diehards at the Barclays Center. The Blue and Orange Army (Section 329 at the Coliseum) will be making the move to section 229 at the Barclays Center.
I see the Islanders carrying much of their rich tradition from Long Island to Brooklyn. I’m sure we will see new traditions develop over the next few years and that is something to be excited about. As the people of Brooklyn begin to embrace the team, there will be a bit of a change in the culture in the fanbase. A lot of Long Islanders naturally won’t be able to make it to as many games in Brooklyn as they did in Nassau.
The only way I see the Islanders doing a complete overhaul in their image and brand is if the team hits a rough patch of years on the ice. That is why I cannot stress enough how important it was for them to have a great last season at the Coliseum. The best way for the Islanders to do their part in making this transition as painless as possible for their fans is to continue winning. Build off last year’s success and continue to get better.
Overall, I think the move to Brooklyn will help the Islanders get the respect they deserve. It will put them in a position to become New York’s hockey team and not New York’s other hockey team. The time is now for the Islanders to thrive and establish themselves as a legitimate force in the NHL. The scene may change, but the team remains the same. Wherever they go, it’s all about the New York Islanders.