The New York Islanders are the final team to accept the modernization of the game. The final team to bow to corporate sponsorship in hopes of bettering its chances at signing premium talent, and thus, winning championships and a long-term following in the process.
But this Rip Van Winkle of a pro hockey team, unlike any other in the league, has as much to rectify on the ice as well as off it.
Playing amid an overly saturated sports market, dwarfed by the likes of MSG and James Dolan’s monopoly of both printed and visual media, the New York Islanders must decide upon the means and measures at both winning over the borough of Brooklyn, while keeping the Long Island fanbase, cultivated over a forty-three year span, in tact.
No small task.
Whomever it is that finally takes the reins of this organization, the fact remains that talent alone will not secure this team’s longevity, for the fickle nature of the average fan, whose attention span is that of a chicken or small child, the next owner of the New York Islanders has the sole responsibility of bridging the gap between the old (traditional or classical, let’s call them) fanbase and the newer or more recent one, with that of the emerging one stationed on Flatbush Avenue and the environs therein.
So the Islanders’ brass alongside its sexy, sleek, slender, state-of-the art facility, must assure and secure itself for the aftermath that comes when the lure of the shiny lights and sultry atmosphere wanes and gives way to mediocrity, as is the case with young, emerging teams like the New York Islanders.
For fact is fact and the Islanders have dramatically improved on paper, but they aren’t Cup contenders yet. This final season at the Nassau Coliseum will undoubtedly tug at every single heart-string associated with the true Islander fan, he/she whose seen his/her share of joy and pain. But emotion and nostalgia can only take you so far, which isn’t much in these days of instant gratification.
All that notwithstanding, the entire New York Islanders organization, from the ticket seller all the way up to the players, coaches, and owner have to pool their energy together to create a tidal wave of momentum and positivity that will ride itself straight out of Long Island and surge through the doors of the Barclays center.
Again, something of a tall order, but it can be done.
Nay, it will.
Rest assured that the Islanders will have the curious buy tickets their first season in the Borough of Brooklyn, but what of it? What if the Islanders continue their trend of losing? Perish the thought, but not really. These are things the new owner and the new New York Islanders can never allow again. That’s the one lesson this organization must take with it.
No team can ever win it all every year, but they have to appear to do so or want to do so, nevertheless.
Those who’ve followed this team closely will clamor away and say that nothing’s been the same since 1984, and made worse by the Milbury’s of the world and that’s absolutely correct. The game and this team have changed dramatically, but only the Islanders have lagged behind and this critical move out of Long Island has pained, saddened, infuriated, (and even invigorated) many an Isles fan.
But one thing remains true: the move to Brooklyn has to payoff in more ways than just revenue.
The owner and this team must do onto Brooklyn what the Dodgers did, in reverse, when they left this city: affect the culture and way of life of a people for the better.
Yes, sports can have a redeeming quality other than supplying individuals with absurd amounts of money. New York hockey has an opportunity of inspiring the youth of the inner city, a notion that one may safely assume has crossed the minds of Isles brass; something of a notion a player like Joshua Ho-sang may well take full advantage of.
And how about this:
In the hopes of continued relevancy, the New York Islanders must teach Brooklyn the game of hockey, among other things, and while doing so, allowing the older fanbase to help bridge that cultural gap, by first fomenting ticket-and-travel programs that will accommodate their long commutes to and from the games.
Then, this organization needs to ensure that a section 329, for example, finds itself a perch to call its own and bringing with it a resounding roar that fills the Barclays center with the spirit of the Coliseum, so that the younger fanbase, one unfamiliar with the Isles’ past, inherits some of its history and all the passion that comes with it.
Whatever the case, the new New York Islanders cannot price-out their fans. Not the heart-and-soul fans. Not the fans with decades of memories to share.
I think of my father, who took me to my first game at the Coliseum in October of 1979.
I don’t remember much except the sounds and the smells and the overall camaraderie, and I’ve yet to lose sight of that feeling and those smells 35 years later. I can point to the section and row I sat in with my father and mother when the New York Islanders swept Dino Ciccarelli and his Minnesota North Stars. There are demarcators everywhere, our fingerprints everywhere in that building, and sad as that may sound, life is about accepting change and being stronger because of it.
Now I have the chance to introduce my father to the Barclays, repackaging as it were, the very thing he once gave me as a child. As if to say: Here, Dad. Here’s that wonderful gift you gave me. Here’s what I’ve done with it all these years. I’ve kept it clean. I’ve been responsible with it. Cherished every moment of it. Shared it with loved ones. Honored it with my heart. Defended it with all my might. Here you go, Dad. Here…
I hope he likes what I’ve done with it.
Forty-three years. Think about it for a second. How long have you been a fan? How long will you continue being one?
Let’s all go to the Coliseum and say good-bye to that ol’ barn, and hello to the boys in Blue and Orange. And if you’re sitting next to a total stranger, ask them: How long have you been coming here? What will you miss the most? Etc.
Enjoy the time you spend watching Islander hockey and steal as many memories as possible.
Meanwhile, let the Islander brass figure out the ins and outs of hockey PR, and let’s hope they give the players and the fans their due diligence.