When last we left the New York Islanders, owner Charles Wang was bemoaning the fact that he’d just gotten crushed in a public referendum on a publicly subsidized new arena, and promising only to stay in Nassau County until his lease expires in 2015. Today, it being (more or less) the one-year anniversary of the official proposal of the vague sketch of that doomed arena plan, Newsday has decided to ramp up the urgency of 2015 being only three years away, noting that “area business and civic leaders” (read: arena proponents) say that “a definitive plan has to emerge soon,” or else … something.
The paper cites as one reason for urgency that $750 million in state economic development funding must be applied for by June 15, so Nassau County needs to get on the ball if it’s going to get in on that. However, it also notes that at most $25 million of those funds will go to Long Island, which isn’t going to go far toward an arena.
The real urgency, then, is the threat of the team moving, which Wang has threatened he will do after 2015. The question is what his viable relocation options are: There’s Quebec, which has a new arena in the works and a good hockey fan base, but pales in comparison to even the Islanders’ sliver of the New York media market. There’s Brooklyn, with an arena that’s nowhere near big enough to be the regular home of NHL hockey. There’s Kansas City, with its management contract that provides no incentive for the arena operators to provide a sweetheart lease to an NHL team, and an even smaller TV market than Quebec. After that … Queens? Seattle? Duluth? While Wang certainly won’t say it out loud, with these as the alternatives, staying put in an old arena in a huge media market starts to sound better and better, especially if you think another few years of waiting will bring the chance of the arena windfall you’ve been waiting on for years.
As we just saw in Minnesota with the Vikings, a key component of getting sizable public funds for a sports facility is at least having some kind of threat of a move to scare fans (and local legislatures) with. For NFL teams, the boogeyman has been Los Angeles; my early guess is the choice to be splashing across front pages on Long Island will be Quebec, but it’s really too soon to tell, especially since another team like the Phoenix Coyotes could end up moving there in the next year or two. Check back as 2015 gets closer, and the newspaper headlines get more panicky.