As the Islanders opened training camp, with their future home below him, Brett Yormark recalled a conversation he had with Charles Wang.
What the owner of the Islanders requested from the chief executive officer of the Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets was not so much a plea as it was a marching order.
“What Charles said to me was, ‘Do what you’ve done for the Nets for our franchise,” Yormark said last week in what was ostensibly the first chance for the team to become acquainted with its future home ahead of Saturday night’s preseason game between the Islanders and the Devils at Barclays Center.
Saturday’s game will be the first NHL game played in the Borough of Churches.
“The Islanders are a big part of our future here at the Barclays Center,” Yormark said. “We’re really ecstatic to have them here today and also to host what will be an exciting night on Sept. 21.”
Make no mistake, the relationship between the Islanders and Barclays is not lessor-lessee, despite the team having agreed to a 25-year lease deal with the building last October. Rather a corporate synergy has been fashioned in a remarkably short period of time. Following months in which the Islanders and Barclays executives worked on the team’s business model, a joint statement was released in July which announced the arena’s parent corporation, Brooklyn Arena, LLC., was managing the team’s business operations, including marketing and sales.
Although the relationship between the two entities is still in its embryonic stage, the initial returns from both sides have been positive.
“I’m enjoying working with Charles so far, and [alternate governor] Art McCarthy and [senior vice president and alternate governor] Michael Picker. They have given me the opportunity to go in and redefine their sales and marketing culture,” Yormark said. “They have staffed up. Charles is making a great investment in the team now, not just on the ice but off the ice. We have hired 20-plus people in all areas of the company, mostly sales.
“Charles has given us the opportunity to transfer some of our best practices that we developed here over there. All we need to do was tinker a little bit with the front office, create a little bit of a more aggressive sales and marketing culture and I think you’re seeing the fruits of all that labor. They should have a great year out there [in Nassau County] as far as ticket sales and fan participation, and we’re looking forward to working with them over the course of the next two years before they get here.”
Following a 2013 campaign that saw the franchise qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2007, the Islanders “have sold more than 3,000 new full-season seats” and have an “87 percent renewal rate” for the upcoming season, according to Yormark.
“I just think they needed to have more of a contemporary approach. They needed to maybe look at things a little differently, be challenged a little differently. And thankfully we’ve got some great resources that [Nets owner] Mikhail Prokhorov on the team and Bruce Ratner on the arena have provided us, and we’re transferring some of those resources there. I think it’s working. It’s a two-year process but I think based on the numbers now, we’re gaining some traction.”
Yormark’s staff have brought the philosophies which were used to generate excitement and sales after the NBA’s Nets moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn. But he is quick to point out the success of the Islanders’ on-ice product has created an impetus the Nets did not have coming into their debut year in Brooklyn.
“The great thing that we recognize is their product is a little ahead of where [the Nets] were when we were transitioning over [from New Jersey],” Yormark said. “They’ve already made the playoffs. We didn’t make the playoffs the last couple of years in New Jersey. They’re building their fanbase right now in Long Island, so they’re in a great place.
“My goal is that if Islanders fans love the Islanders on Long Island, or like them, rather, they’re going to love them here because we’re going to bring the best of what they’re getting there, here,” Yormark said. “And when they get here, they’re going to see this. No different than what we said in New Jersey coming to Brooklyn. It’s an exciting time for everyone.”
For Saturday’s game, Barclays will seat 15,813. That number does not include 416 obstructed view seats. Should the capacity stay at 15,813 when the Islanders move in permanently prior to the 2015-16 season, it would be the second smallest arena in the NHL, ahead of only Winnipeg’s MTS Centre (15,004). Nassau Coliseum seats 16,170.
“It was modeled for basketball and concerts, but for us, obviously, we want this to be a multi-purpose venue. I think it does really well for hockey,” Yormark said of Barclays, adding that additional seating “is being considered.”
As part of the franchise relocation, the building will include an Islanders “campus,” according to Bruce Ratner, the executive chairman of Forest City Ratner Co. An artist’s rendering of the campus provided to media shows a spacious dressing room and a lounge for players. Another aspect to the building will be an Islanders-specific team store.
One feature that won’t change after the move is the team’s traditional blue, white and orange color scheme, Yormark said. He added there will be a patch recognizing the franchise’s new borough home. Yormark also said the team will have a third jersey — for home games only — that will be Brooklyn specific.
Follow NHL writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.