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.