Islanders fans pretty worried about this whole Belmont arena traffic and transit situation

New York Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky again stressed this weekend that his team’s arena is totally on track to open in 2021 as scheduled, so it’s good timing that I had an article run at Deadspin yesterday pointing out that yeah, it really isn’t, at least not if the elected officials threatening to block it if it doesn’t come with a full-service train station are serious, because there’s no easy way to build a full-service train station there.

And even if they do approve it anyway, it will likely result in an arena that is once again hard to get to by both car and public transit, which has a bunch of Islanders fans slightly worried they’d be getting out of the Brooklyn frying pan and into the fire. My favorite bit:

James Francis Fess, a lifelong Islanders fan—he claims that his father literally placed an Islanders hat on his head the day he was born—and a leader of the Blue and Orange Army fan group, worries that the traffic on the nearby Cross Island Parkway on game days “is going to be insanity. The traffic around the Coliseum is nothing like around Belmont. You can look up any single day on a traffic map, and I guarantee you that it’s going to be black on the Cross Island.”

Fess says he got to ride to the Belmont arena announcement last season with the team’s entourage, which included both Ledecky and longtime broadcaster Stan Fischler, who moonlights as a transit expert. The resulting conversation, he says, was both enlightening and worrisome.

“I mentioned to [Ledecky], ‘It’s not true that people will have to transfer at Jamaica still, right? Like how they do for the Barclays Center.’ And he’s like, ‘No, we want the train to go directly there. Stan’ll know about this, because Stan knows everything about trains.’”

Fischler, recalls Fess, began rattling off a list of changes that would be needed to make full service to Belmont a reality. “Ledecky’s sitting there like, ‘Wait a second.’ I see the look on his face, and I think ‘Oh no, they didn’t even think about this.’”

All the Islanders fans I spoke to wished that the team had just stayed put at the Nassau Coliseum site, and while there’s no doubt some sentimentality behind that, it’s also true that getting to an arena on the Queens/Nassau border on a weeknight during rush hour with limited train service is not going to be pretty. It may be the best option now after what the current team owners stumbled into following Charles Wang’s impulsive flight to Brooklyn — I spend much of the end of the article discussing the increasing evidence that rich sports people are no better at planning and decision making than the rest of us — but it’s still pretty remarkable that Islanders owners keep picking places to play and saying, “We’ll figure out how to get fans there later.”


33 comments on “Islanders fans pretty worried about this whole Belmont arena traffic and transit situation

  1. I am an Islander fan. I admit to no longer living in East Meadow ( a mile from the Coliseum), so when I lived there it was perfect for me. I understand Jamaica Ave, Hempstead Turnpike and the Cross Island are no bargain, but people seem to forget the alternative to Elmont would not be the Coliseum but Houston or Quebec City.

      • It would, in all likelihood, be a sale to interests in Quebec City who would move the team rather than Ledecky moving the team himself. They pretty much said that Belmont would be the last roundup.

        • I’m skeptical. Yes, Canada is a hockey hotbed, but it seems unlikely that that would make up for the downgrade in market size (and exchange rate) in going to a city with less than 10% of the population.

          Or, to put it another way: If the Islanders were up for sale, would somebody be willing to pay more to keep the team in NY, even having to play in Brooklyn and/or Nassau, than Quebecor would pay to move them north? Very possibly.

          • Normally, I’d agree with you but the market size doesn’t really matter unless you can reach that market. They’re dead last in attendance this season and I found this here below showing them third from the bottom for local TV ratings as of a couple of years ago. https://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Journal/Issues/2017/04/24/Media/NHL-ratings.aspx

            It would not take much to top 12,000 fans per game and beat a 0.32 TV share.

          • It’s not about ratings, it’s about revenues. I believe the Islanders are still getting about $20 million a year for TV rights — anyone know offhand what the smaller Canadian teams get?

          • Neil: Since the “RSN” for all small market Canadian teams is now the national rights holder (Rogers, $5.2Bn 12 year deal) for the NHL in Canada itself, these teams do not appear to earn RSN rights fees directly.

            I don’t know whether there is some compensation built in to the Rogers national deal that replaces what they were paying Canadia teams for regional rights prior to the new deal (which started in 2014 iirc), but there effectively is no RSN anymore. I don’t believe the Rogers regional deal was ever considered the same way a Sportschannel or NESN deal might be for the Islanders or Bruins. IE: it wasn’t split between the Canadian franchises alone or parsed out based on individual games or regions

            Split evenly the 2014 Rogers national deal means about $15m per team per season… which of course the current Islanders owners get their share of in addition to their local cable deal(s).

            It used to be that the NHL national deals were split according to nation (IE: US national deals were split among the US based teams, while Canadian TV revenues were split among Canadian clubs). I believe that ended about a decade ago, but I’m not sure if the revenue is all pooled and divided equally or not.

            For reference, the US national rights are currently part of a ten year $2Bn deal through NBC/Comcast… which is, you know, less…

          • The Sabres also get $20m a year from MSG, which argues that the Islanders aren’t getting much of a NYC bonus:

            https://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Daily/Issues/2016/06/22/Media/Sabres.aspx

          • Additional searches turned up these:

            https://ottawasun.com/2014/01/29/live-sens-announce-massive-tv-deal-hit-ice-for-practice/wcm/72faec95-3f0c-4354-9139-0c9352b14533

            This is very much a distress deal as TSN lost a ton(ne) of programming when Rogers grabbed the full national package, squeezing them out.

            Rogers also flipped the French language rights to Videotron in this deal:

            https://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/hockeys-french-connection/article15642270/

            But that isn’t really a “team” RSN deal, it’s most of the French language rights barring the Canadiens deal with TSN/RDS (the Canadiens did opt out of the Rogers deal and ultimately did a partial package for I believe 60 games on TSN/RDS. I assume Videotron’s TVA has the others).

            Oh for the days when if you wanted Dodger games you just had to tune in to KTLA… not have 3 regional networks and a 6 live stream passes…

            Weren’t the Yankees on WPIX before the great RSN wave arrived? I seem to recall seeing them there even into the 1980s…

          • I thin the takeaway here is “being a hockey owner isn’t such a great deal no matter where you do it.”

            I would still bet fairly heavily against the Islanders ever leaving the New York area. But then, I thought Wang would be crazy to move to Brooklyn, too, and while I wasn’t wrong, that didn’t mean it didn’t happen.

    • So who is going to pay the “NY market” premium to buy the team and then immediately make that an unrecoverable sunk cost by moving the team out of said market? Nobody.

      Sure, Houston is a big market too. But it’s not New York (even that part that is not Manhattan). While you could almost certainly get fans to the arena in Houston, you neither own nor control the arena (unless you plan to build one, which Rockets ownership might have something to say about).

      Would you be better off with a full building and Houston TV rights or an half empty building and NY RSN revenues?

      If I’m the owner, I’d take 10,000 paying fans and that NY market over anything other than 20,000 and the NY market… which they don’t appear to have access to.

  2. There’s traffic on this island everywhere, always. I’d love to see the protestors move off the island if traffic bothers them, hopefully making traffic better for the rest of us.

    • From the city, probably. From the east, taking the train to the bus to Uniondale might be no worse than switching trains at Jamaica.

      • Anyone who has ever taken the N70, N71 or N72 from Hempstead knows how crowded it gets until the bus hits Levittown.

  3. This is still Charles Wang’s epic folly. The new(ish) owners need to take a good hard look at how to fix it and be prepared to use a significant amount of their own money to do it.

    Wang needed to either go all in with Ratner on Brooklyn (which FCR offered him a chance to do, let’s not forget), or fix his issues at or near the Coliseum. Instead, he bet on a taxpayer funded $4.3Bn monument to himself when even pigeons weren’t all that interested in a statue of him being erected.

    Sure, transit there sucks and maybe always will. But some improvements can be made… 15,000 people used to go there with some regularity, so no-one can say there aren’t enough fans willing to travel there (maybe a lot were locals, I don’t know, but the building was still pretty full at one time). Have they all moved away? Or are they just no longer interested in supporting this team?

    Is it fair to say that the team isn’t coming close to filling the non-obstructed view seats in Brooklyn? I know Prokhorov wanted them out because he felt he was losing money on the deal (which he almost certainly is).

    Moving to a new area is not a guarantee of immediate success. It takes time to build a fan base and you have to actually try. Sports owners are always trading one fan base for another when they move (some fans will endure the travel headaches to support their team in the new location). Getting stuck in a basketball arena with limited financial upside/downside is not a recipe for building a brand or business.

    Surely there is somewhere in Queens, Brooklyn or further east that the Islanders wealthy owners can find that is both accessible and a potentially decent location for a new NHL calibre arena?

    If not, they might as well move back to Nassau County, regardless of the number of seats…

    • They are using a significant amount of their money. (Or at least OVG’s and the Wilpons’ money.) Even with a massive land discount from the state, they’re still plunking down like $1 billion.

      I am interested in how the revenue split between the Islanders and the other investors will go, though. If Ledecky and Malkin aren’t putting up a ton of equity, will they just end up effectively renters again? Not that that’s a terrible thing, but is this the best place to be a renter?

    • Warning, hugely misleading bar chart with no zero axis shown:

      https://projects.newsday.com/databases/hockey/islanders-attendance-2018-19-barclays-center-vs-nassau-coliseum/

      • Reminds me of the old Dilbert strip about a product that is killing it’s purchasers being presented to management as promoting a “decline in unsatisfied customers”…

        If I’m reading that graphic and the table right, the Isles have drawn 226k in 21 games at Barclays and 215k in 16 games at their old home… with 5 more to go in Nassau (didn’t realize they were splitting evenly this year).

        So, they are averaging 10,750 at their ‘new’ arena and 13,400 at their old arena?
        Seems like traffic out east isn’t the defining factor after all….

      • Wow is that chart bad. Though not as bad as the shot you took against a Billy Joel classic! I loved that song when I was 10! You take it back.

  4. So for all the talk about the cable deal it averages $27 million a year through 2031. You talking about spending several hundred million on a new arena. Whereas if you moved to QC you will have an arena for free so even if you got $15 million a year the lack of debt service on the arena will more than make up for it

    • You don’t “have an arena for free” — somebody has to pay off the Quebec arena. And the Islanders owners aren’t paying the full cost of the Belmont arena — OVG and the Wilpons are paying some, presumably to be repaid out of concert revenues.

      The question here is whether the Quebec arena deal and projected attendance is worth giving up (in your calculations) $12 million a year in cable revenues. I’d call that a decided “Who the hell knows?” Suffice to say it would be a move on par with the Sonics going to Oklahoma City, which doesn’t happen often, though I suppose the one time it did happen is proof of concept.

    • aqib: Don’t forget that there is no path to the arena in QC that doesn’t include selling the team to Pierre-Karl Peledeau… who holds the operating rights to the arena and is it’s naming rights sponsor. Sso the present owners can sell (probably for a nice profit) and leave the NHL world if they like… but then, they can do that by selling a NY market team if they want.

      • I was answering in context of if the team was put up for sale would you pay more than a local buyer even though that meant walking away from the cable deal. So if I’m PKP and I’m making a bid I’m factoring in cash flow that may have lower TV revenue but no arena debt service and likely more gate revenue. My point is simply that the TV deal in and of itself isn’t enough to make it worth building a new arena to stay when other options exist. Its not like you will get $0 TV revenue elsewhere and you won’t have as much in arena debt service while you’ll also have an easier time with gate revenues because no matter where you are on Long Island you’re going to have issues with people being able to get to the game in time for a 7PM puck drop with the traffic and the working hours you have in NY.

  5. Forgive my ignorance. But why couldn’t the arena be situated north of Belmont in that appears to be a parking lot. Surely they could put a garage in there to make up for lost spaces. If they do that it seems like they could have direct access to the trains without having to do the turn around?

    • Looking at this:

      https://www.google.com/maps/place/Belmont+Park/@40.7191481,-73.7270746,555m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0xa1a68b18340623eb!8m2!3d40.7139685!4d-73.7174873

      You’d have to build a whole new station, and I don’t see enough room for a platform without tearing down a bunch of houses. And you’d need to build a bridge over the tracks as well to get people to the westbound side…

  6. At the risk of asking a “too simple” non New Yorker question, where are the majority of Islander fans today living?

    When I was a youngster watching games on TV, the Coliseum seemed reasonably full. I think it was reasonably well known even then that getting to Coliseum wasn’t convenient for a lot of people, but the team was good (sometimes great) and attendance was pretty good by NHL standards of the day.

    As time (and sports business) changed, though, the Islanders fortunes both on and off the ice did went south. A lot of that was self inflicted damage. But what are the “non franchise” reasons that have contributed?

    The notion I was always given was that the arena was built on ‘cheap land in the middle of nowhere’, so nobody was willing to go there. I doubt that was ever actually true, but it does seem that there has been additional development built heading ‘eastward’ in the decades since that used to be said.

    Is that accurate?

    If so, and enough well heeled fans already live within reasonable commuting distance to support a well run franchise, what do the owners think they can achieve by abandoning this fanbase in favour of another location?

    You can understand a team leaving a location that does not have enough fans/discretionary spending to support it. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

    • One thing is that in the 70s and 80s a lot of companies were moving out of the city and into suburban office parks. However that trend has reversed. Not saying there are no jobs on Long Island but the types of jobs that give you the income where you can afford going to NHL games is more than likely in the city and you’re commuting. Long Island traffic is terrible. Put it in perspective I went to a Browns game at the Meadowlands and a Browns game in Cleveland in back to back weeks. In both cases I left the parking lot at 5 (an hour after the game). It only took me an extra hour to get to my house in Long Island from Cleveland (500 miles) than it did from the Meadowlands (50 miles). Getting to a 7PM puck drop from Manhattan is very difficult because the LIRR horrible (I haven’t ridden it since 04 but my friends tell me its gotten worse). So while there are enough people living on the Island who do or would be interested in supporting the Islanders, being able to get to games will be a challenge.

  7. Oh, and Happy Hudson Yards Grand Opening Eve-Day….

    Anyone still think about the merits of a Jets or NYCFC stadium there instead?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.
NOTE: Both personal attacks on other commenters and trolling (posting inflammatory remarks solely to start a fight) are not allowed in comments, and will be deleted. Any commenters who repeatedly ignore these rules may be placed on moderation, or banned.

HTML tags are not allowed.

784,912 Spambots Blocked by Simple Comments