A Simple Plan to Save the Isles

With the defeat of the Islanders’ arena referendum, the team’s future on Long Island is in serious doubt, with speculation running rampant that the once-dynastic Isles could find themselves playing in Brooklyn, Queens, Suffolk County, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, or even Quebec City when their lease at the decrepit Nassau Coliseum runs out. Not since the Montreal Maroons disbanded in 1938 has a former Stanley Cup winner so much as relocated to a new market, and it would be a terrible shame to see the Islanders suffer that fate (though it should be noted that moving to Suffolk County would enable them to retain their name, while they’d likely become the Brooklyn Coney Islanders if they moved to Kings County).

What Denis Potvin and company accomplished from 1980-1984 was nothing short of astounding, a performance never matched before – and probably never to be matched again – in North American professional sports history. The Isles won four consecutive Stanley Cups – and 19 consecutive playoff series – before falling to Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers in the 1984 Cup Finals. The Isles in many ways brought Long Island into the public consciousness for good reasons, and their importance to the community should not be understated. But that all said, the defeat of the referendum was a good thing, because it shouldn’t be the Nassau County taxpayers who foot the bill for a new arena. Instead, it should be those who love and support the team who provide the necessary capital to get the Isles into a 21st century facility.

For starters, Billy Joel – who has generated massive income for himself playing countless shows at Nassau Coliseum – could donate a dozen nights’ worth of concerts at the old Coliseum, playing his Greatest Hits catalog and inviting other Coliseum favorites (a la “Last Play at Shea”) to join him in a series of fundraisers to get the ball rolling on a new arena. Keeping the math simple, 12 shows for 16,000 fans at an average ticket price of $150 would generate close to $30 million (not counting parking and concession income). Not a bad start. And to reward Joel for his efforts, he could be given first crack at opening the new building (as he likely would anyway). Joel hasn’t spoken out one way or another about the arena to this point, and this would be a terrific way for him to do so without jeopardizing his relationship with adoring fans who might not support the idea of a publicly-funded arena.

Then, there’s the Isles themselves. Personal Seat Licenses (PSL’s) are often talked about with disdain, but they can serve a good purpose. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that 16,000 PSL’s were to be sold at an average of $10,000 apiece. At first glance, that seems an astronomical sum, but what if the first three season’s tickets and parking were to be included with the PSL’s? Dividing that $10,000 fee over 120 regular season games (three seasons) would mean an average of $83 per game. Currently, the average ticket price for an Islanders game is nearly $60, so the additional $23/game would not be an exorbitant price to pay for a combination of parking and a seat license. There’s another $160 million.

In two paragraphs, nearly $200 million was raised (half what the proposed arena would cost) without any taxes needed. It shouldn’t be hard to find a local bank that would offer a low-interest payment plan for the tickets, thus making it relatively easy for the fans to commit to the PSL’s, and it’s not like Billy Joel’s particularly busy these days. Now, this plan obviously would involve eliminating ticket/parking income for those first three seasons, which would make it much harder for Wang to make payroll. But given what he has experienced to this point, it seems likely that a combination of concession and merchandise revenue – plus the promise of free rent in a high-profit arena after those three seasons of fan payback conclude – would provide ample incentive for him to go along with a plan of this nature.

At the end of the day, if the Islanders are to survive, it will be because their fans are willing to take the steps needed to keep them on Long Island. This plan – or one of its ilk – serves as a far fairer and more logical solution than to tax every Nassau County taxpayer in order to keep a hockey team in town when only a relatively small percentage of Long Islanders actually cares whether the Isles stay or go. If those passionate fans are given a real opportunity to save their team, it’s a good bet they’ll do so.

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13 Responses to “A Simple Plan to Save the Isles”

  1. Danbury Islanders Fan
    August 23, 2011 at 4:44 pm #

    So you want to build an arena by bankrupting the team? If Wang doesn’t recieve a dollar in ticket and parking revenue for 3 years how is he suppose to support the team? Would Billy Joel be willing to do these concerts for free? I think we need to go back to the drawing board.

  2. Kevin Greenstein
    August 23, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

    Thanks for the comment. I’m actually not of the belief that this plan would bankrupt the team. This plan would represent short-term losses for Wang in the name of huge long-term profits. Having a rent-free existence in a state-of-the-art arena would ensure the team’s long-term sustainability.

    As for the specifics…

    If the NHL agreed to stop treating the Isles as though their proximity to NYC matters (it doesn’t, their fan base isn’t trekking out to games from Manhattan) and qualify them for revenue sharing, it would help.

    A better concession deal in the new arena would certainly help. The current deal is a huge drag on team profits.

    Getting CCM to provide the team with 100,000 jerseys at cost – which should be about $2-$3 at most – would provide an opportunity to fund-raise for additional arena income. 100,000 jerseys selling at $100 (profit $97 each) would generate another $10 million. Add in autographed and game-worn merchandise, hats and t-shirts, and a $25 million fund-raising effort is certainly doable. If fans could buy that as part of this process, wouldn’t they?

    The existing local TV deal – or a new one – would generate additional income.

    Finally, as for Billy Joel, I think he should do the arena-benefit concerts for free, with the promise that he’d get to open the new building in what could easily be one of the most lucrative concerts of his career. It isn’t charity in the traditional sense, but it would be a great thing for a Long Island hero to do for the community. If there isn’t already a “Billy Joel Museum,” put it inside the arena, and sell his CD’s and other merchandise there.

  3. BarryLI
    August 23, 2011 at 4:49 pm #

    So a team that struggles to get an average attendance of 11,000 during the season is going to sell out the arena; not only sell it out but find 16,000 people with 10 large lying around to hand over to the team?

    Too funny.

  4. BarryLI
    August 23, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

    Not to mention the guy with the worst seats in the house would be forking over the same 10 large as the one with the best seats. I’m sure that would go over big.

  5. Kevin Greenstein
    August 23, 2011 at 5:02 pm #

    The Isles’ struggles to sell tickets stem largely from two factors:

    1) Their arena is a dump

    2) The team has been in terrible disrepair for most of the past 20 years

    The new arena would resolve both problems, first by providing a better game experience for the fans and later by providing a huge increase in revenue that would allow Wang to assemble a more competitive roster.

    As for the $10,000 seat license, it’s meant to be an average. Fans on the glass would pay more, fans in the cheap seats less. Remember, while the Yankees’ original $2,500 price tag to sit near home plate didn’t work, many fans are paying $1,250 to sit there every game. In other words, eight Yankee games equals three seasons worth of Islanders games. In that context, not a bad deal…

  6. BarryLI
    August 23, 2011 at 5:18 pm #

    New arenas have a tendency to draw customers in their first year with a “novelty” effect, in order to get them to return they’d probably have to see a better team with more chance of actually winning games. Charles Wang has shown that he is unable to run a successful hockey club by a) allowing Milbury to dismantle the club completely (they are still paying the price from his years of mismanagement), and b) then refusing to spend on the roster to make them a competitive club. A new building can only do so much, and even if it does swell Wang’s coffers what guarantee is there that he will then put the money back into the club a la the Yankees?

  7. Kevin Greenstein
    August 23, 2011 at 5:27 pm #

    That’s true, but you need to consider the effect a new arena – and a revitalized approach – would have on the Islanders’ fan base.

    As for the money, Wang has done enough at this point to make it clear that he’s committed to spending money to help the team win. He hasn’t spent the money in the right places – and he hasn’t always allowed the right people to make the decisions – but his effort should not be denied.

    Do keep in mind that paying Rick DiPietro what they did and when they did made a lot more sense than the Rays paying Evan Longoria what they did when they did. As it turned out, the Rays are held up as geniuses for essentially the same reason the Isles are held up as fools. DiPietro was a top-10 NHL goalie signing for a 15-year contract that was below league average in year one (!).

    I won’t argue for Milbury (Luongo/Jokinen/Chara/Yashin), but Snow has done a decent job in a very tough position. Cutting his teeth now will unquestionably prepare him for a brighter future.

  8. Danbury Islanders Fan
    August 23, 2011 at 10:46 pm #

    Wang has shown that he is willing to spend money to save the team and to keep them on Long Island. However, he would/could never except this plan. Currently he has been losing 20 million a year and if you take parking and ticket revenue from him how much more is he going to lose during those 3 years. This plan has no chance in today’s economic times and I don’t think it would work in the best of times. You are asking Wang to still pay for the entire arena just instead of financing it you are asking him to giveup all his revenue and finance a smaller portion of the arena. Another problem is you are assuming that with a new arena people will comeback, but if you are asking them for 10,000 payment or to finance the seats over three years they will not. People were upset last season with the marginal raise of ticket prices. Then you argue that if a winning product is on the ice people will be more willing to do this, but you are taking away Wang’s revenue streams to make the team better.

  9. wayne liebl
    August 23, 2011 at 11:47 pm #

    I remember being @ the Nassau Coliseum in their inaugural season when they had 11 wins and the star player was Billy Harris. :-) W

  10. Kevin Greenstein
    August 24, 2011 at 7:34 am #

    Danbury Isles Fan, the point isn’t to look at this on a short-term basis. I agree, those three seasons would be a challenge for Wang. But at the end of those three years, he’d have an incredibly profitable situation to work with. Remember, there’s still all of the following revenue sources to consider:

    1) Concerts, sporting events, other events
    2) Luxury boxes and suites
    3) Local TV revenue
    4) Arena Tours
    5) Merchandise
    6) Special Events
    7) Etc.

    If Wang can handle losing $20 million per year in a bad arena situation, it stands to reason that he’d be willing to lose $20 million per year for a fixed period of time in order to earn tremendous long-term profits in a new building.

  11. Danbury Islanders Fan
    August 25, 2011 at 1:56 am #

    There is no business person alive who would willingly sign a deal that they know will make them lose between 60-100 million over three years. I still believe your plan will bankrupt the team.

    By any chance have you seen this plan?

    http://www.liherald.com/stories/We-can-save-the-Hub,34978

    I therefore propose a bill from the New York State Legislature establishing a Nassau Coliseum Arena Authority that would be empowered to sell tax-exempt bonds to finance the future development of the Hub. With rental income securing the bond issuance, this Arena Authority would have financial oversight responsibilities and negotiate contracts for future development. Development should include a green (LEED) environmental initiative and be as energy efficient as possible, while adhering to a construction budget under the Arena Authority’s

  12. Kevin Greenstein
    August 25, 2011 at 7:49 am #

    Tax exemptions would likely mean that the new Coliseum wouldn’t generate revenue for the County. I believe it should. Professional sports teams should be money-generators for the owners, the players, and the community.

    You’ve already said that Wang is currently losing $20 million/year. In a situation where all of those previously stated ancillary incomes are available (and much more lucrative than in the current building), Wang would likely jump at a scenario where he loses $20 million/year for 3 more years, knowing that he’d have a long run of 15-20 years of tremendous profitability.

    If the NHL were to stop foolishly punishing the Isles for their proximity to NYC – and allow them to participate in revenue-sharing – the combination of the future arena income and the short-term revenue-sharing would save the Isles. And with a new arena, their future would be far brighter.

    For one example of the ancillary revenue described above, 40 luxury boxes at $125,000/year (a luxury box in MSG cost +$100,000 nearly 20 years ago) would generate $5 million/year.

  13. Danbury Islanders Fan
    August 25, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

    The arena will still generate a revenue for the county if they use tax exempt bonds. The county would still own the building and get part of the ticket revenue and all of the parking. The county would still benefit from the additional money fan spend in the area. Plus the county would still recieve rent from the Islanders.This is how the Mets got a large portion of their funding for Citi Field. I give you credit for thinking outside the box, but your plan doesn’t work noone is willingly going signup to lose money for the POTENTIAL of making money later. Plus this is the NHL not the NFL PSL’S will not work. The only market in the NHL that has them in Toronto and I bet you can guess why.

    http://mobile.newsday.com/inf/infomo;JSESSIONID=935F78CC4ECD3E8558B5.3124?site=newsday&view=islanders_item&feed:a=newsday_5min&feed:c=islanders&feed:i=1.3119674

    A state council charged with boosting the Long Island economy has established a committee to propose ways to redevelop the Nassau Hub, including the Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

    The move by the Long Island Economic Development Council comes three weeks after Nassau voters, in a public referendum, rejected a $400-million funding proposal to replace the aging Coliseum and to build a minor league baseball stadium at nearby Mitchel Field.

    If the study committee’s ideas are found to have merit, they will be included in the county’s request for proposals for redeveloping the Hub in Hempstead Town, county officials said Wednesday.

    The committee’s existence is seen by some as improving chances that the 77-acre Hub will be among the big projects identified by the council for possible state aid. Those projects, along with a five-year plan for growing jobs on Long Island, are due in Albany by Nov. 14.