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New York Islanders Facing Short-Term Arena Decisions

Nassau Coliseum

With a new Belmont arena now seemingly a reality, the New York Islanders (NHL) are facing some short-term challenges regarding where to play in the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 seasons.

Unless some sort of scheduling miracle happens, it looks like the earliest a new Belmont arena could open is the 2021-2022 NHL season, comprising some 38 months of planning and construction. (Newsday has a detailed, impressive look at what needs to be done between now and when the arena opens.) It’s not necessarily an absurd assumption that the beginning of the 2021-2022 NHL season isn’t the most logical time for the new arena to open, given how much of the planning time will go to things like environmental reviews. So, for now, let’s use that as a baseline.

Which means the NHL team needs to figure out a game plan for home ice before then. The Islanders are opting out of their 25-year Barclays Center lease, which still commits the team to play there in 2018-2019. Under negotiation: if the Islanders will play there in the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 seasons, and how many games are under consideration. It’s likely the team could play some sort of split schedule that includes some — maybe just a handful — of games at the Nassau Coliseum. In terms of PR, that’s not the worst move, a fact acknowledged by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in giving tacit approval to Nassau Coliseum games. In terms of revenue, the Nassau Coliseum is a challenge: the Isles would receive a share of the gate but no revenues from sponsorships or suites, making a game at the smaller a venue a hit to the team coffers. From Newsday:

“If you think about the Coliseum, it doesn’t have the amenities and the things that a third-generation arena will have,” Ledecky said on WFAN radio last week. He cited the “great” preseason game the Islanders played there this season on Sept. 17 against Philadelphia. “There were still unbelievably long lines for the bathrooms. Concessions are still an issue.”

A contingent of NHL officials led by Commissioner Gary Bettman toured Nassau Coliseum last week to gauge what type of improvements need to be made to host NHL games. The league is interested in upgrading the ice-making operations, suites and team locker rooms….

“[The league’s] initial position was, we will have no games, no regular season games, at the Nassau Coliseum,” Ledecky said last week. “The reasons: It’s small, there’s no suite revenue, no sponsorship revenue. There’s a whole bunch of issues . . . To play all your games there is going to be difficult.”

Still, the PR considerations may outweigh the financial challenges, especially when the Islanders are working to sell season tickets at Belmont. So don’t be surprised if the team schedules some games at the Nassau Coliseum, especially in 2020-2021.

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