From 1980-83, the New York Islanders reigned supreme in the National Hockey League, winning four consecutive Stanley Cups. The franchise’s success cemented its tradition in the hearts of those hardcore hockey fans living in Nassau and Suffolk counties, a proud region of the country with deep sports roots.
Since its inception in 1972, the Islanders franchise has called Long Island home. And starting with the 2015-16 NHL season, on Long Island it will remain. But instead of playing in the outdated Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the New York Islanders are moving out of the burbs and over two counties/boroughs into the new, award-winning Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn.
Brooklyn-izing the Islanders
Barclays Center obviously has had recent success with professional sports relocation, with the NBA’s Nets franchise moving to Brooklyn two and a half years ago. But unlike the Nets’ complete brand transformation, the Islanders’ introduction to the borough will be much less shape-shifting.
“It’s a lot different than what we did with the Nets, when we had to do a total re-brand,” says Fred Mangione, Chief Operating Officer for the Brooklyn Nets/Barclays Center. “[The Islanders] don’t need a new brand. Their traditions are too deep. They just need a refresh, and our goal is to ‘Brooklyn-ize’ the team a little bit.”
To begin “Brooklyn-izing” the Islanders, a third jersey will be introduced that will intentionally connect the team to the borough and to the arena. But beyond that, the team’s name, colors, logo, and other sweaters will remain intact.
“We don’t want to change the traditions,” Mangione says. “We don’t want to do anything that [the fans] are not used to. As we always say, Brooklyn is part of Long Island.”
Uniting Old and New
In its marketing initiatives, Barclays Center is aiming to attract disparate groups – both the longtime Long Island fan and the new Brooklyn fan. To meet this challenge, the staff is crafting two different marketing messages.
“[Two different messages] is something we normally wouldn’t do,” says Mangione. “But as we market to the Long Islander, we’re telling them that tradition has a new home. We don’t want to change anything. We’re just bringing them to the best building in America.
“As far as Brooklyn, when we market to the borough, we talk about the idea that Brooklyn scores again,” he continues. “First we got the arena, then we got the Nets, now we got the Islanders.”
Aiding in the transition are the many transplant Islander fans who have moved from Long Island into New York over the past 40 years. Barclays Center is better connected to public transportation than maybe any other sports facility in the world. With 11 subway lines and 11 bus lines making stops at the arena’s front door, it is convenient for those people who work in Manhattan, and New York’s other boroughs, to get to a game.
“Those fans can now get to our games easier because we are in Brooklyn,” points out Mangione.
And with Madison Square Garden now only a 20-minute train ride away, the Islanders’ move also heightens the existing rivalry with the Rangers, bringing further excitement to the relocation.
“We’ve had talks about a rivalry day, where the Islanders and the Rangers play at Barclays Center, then later that same night, the Nets and Knicks play at MSG. There’s a lot of fun things we could do.”
With the ice slightly off-center to the seats and the scoreboard hanging above one of the blue lines, the hockey layout isn’t perfect at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues. But the Barclays Center team isn’t concerned with the rough edges, as the pros sand any perceived cons.
“The sightlines are off-center a little bit, but our scoreboard is so massive, you can’t really tell,” observes Mangione. “The intimacy of the building far outweighs [the asymmetrical layout].”
Some fans have expressed concerns over a couple hundred seats with limited views at the west end of the arena behind one of the goals. Because the arena was designed for the smaller dimensions of a basketball court, seating sections at the west end stop abruptly above the glass.
In response to the limited view seats, Barclays Center is converting some of those seats into a unique experience and family zone when the puck drops.
Additional west end club seats, 120 to 150 premium seats on the glass by the goal, are also being introduced. These seats will be elevated, touted by Mangione as “giving fans a better view than conventional glass seating.” Patrons in these seats will have direct access to the Calvin Klein Club.
“[The west end seating] is going to be a one-of-a-kind area and nothing like you’ve ever seen before,” says Mangione. “So we’re taking something that could be a negative with some obstructed seats and making it a better premium product than other arenas have.”
Next Stop: Brooklyn
With a passionate fan base and a deep bench of young players with the best record in hockey, the timing of the Islanders' relocation is opportune.
“Right now, the Islanders are one of the best teams in hockey,” Mangione says. “They have a great runway, which we didn’t have with the Nets. In Jersey, we only had about ten-percent of our base that came over [to Brooklyn]. The Islanders are different. The base is excited about the move.
“We’ve had two preseason games [at Barclays Center], and the response has been tremendous. Hockey is really going to take over this building and this area. It’s going to be very impactful.”
- The Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) stops at the foot of Barclays Center, providing a great opportunity for Islanders fans from Nassau and Suffolk counties to get to a game.
- The current Islanders owner, Charles Wang, had attempted to renovate Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum and introduce mixed-use development around the arena, through The Lighthouse Project, but Nassau county residents voted against the tax referendum.
- Through its Cisco StadiumVision solution, Barclays Center is unveiling a “hockey-everywhere platform”. A mobile app offers fans a digital channel to watch games and view replays from unique camera angles, all on their smartphones from anywhere in the arena.
- The seating capacity for hockey at Barclays Center is 15,813.
- The goal of the sales team is to have a one-stop shopping package that touches all franchises and all products in the arena. But if someone is interested in hockey-only, packages can be tweaked to fit those needs.
- The Barclays Center/Brooklyn Nets team (Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, LLC) has managed the business operations of the Islanders since 2013.
- The Islanders have hired Gameplan Creative, a branding and marketing agency, to help develop advertising and marketing campaigns in support of the team’s transition to Barclays Center.
- Jonathan Ledecky and Scott Malkin were introduced as the new owners of the New York Islanders last October. They will transition to majority owners in the 2016-17 season, when Wang will assume a minority ownership role.
To read more about the New York Islanders' upcoming move to Brooklyn from Fred Mangione, Chief Operating Officer at Barclays Center, read the From the Top department in the upcoming Winter 2015 issue of SEAT Magazine.
Email Jared at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @JChrstophrFrank.