The Islanders are moving west, but they have no plan to discard the past when they settle into the Barclays Center.
Rather, they will honor what was authored on Long Island while laying the groundwork for history to be made.
“It’s the balance of this contemporary new approach to sports in Brooklyn, and how that marries to the tradition of the Islanders,” Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark told Metro New York in a wide-ranging phone interview. “And I think my team and I have been very sensitive to the fact that they have to mesh.”
The Islanders will call thestate-of-the-art arena on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenuehome beginning in 2015-16. The move will be the final act in a saga that has raged for nearly two decades before the team announced in an Oct. 24, 2012 press conference it had come to a 25-year agreement to play home games at the Barclays Center.
The Islanders have played every home game in the franchise’s 43-year history at the old barn on Hempstead Turnpike, so the relocation to Barclays will be a transitional process with the building unlike any in the NHL.
Due to its configuration, Barclays will possess peculiarities when compared to other NHL rinks with the primary example being the main scoreboard hanging over one of the blue lines. Another issue is seating capacity, as Barclays projects to be the second-smallest arena in the NHL — seating under 16,000. Yormark explained Barclays is adding 120 to 150 West End Club seats, which he believes will provide fans with a hockey viewing experience unlike any in the league.
Those associated with the team and the arena have professed not to be concerned about the building’s differences compared to other NHL arenas, most notably current owner Charles Wang, and future owners Jonathan Ledecky and Scott Malkin. They all praised Barclays during the Oct. 22 press conference at Nassau Coliseum to formally introduce Ledecky and Malkin as the franchise’s future majority ownership.
Instead, the task for Barclays becomes conserving and cultivating fans.
Yormark and his staff have built campaigns centered around the slogans “Tradition Has A New Home” and “Brooklyn Scores.” The thought process behind the approach is to attract the current fanbase on Long Island to experience Brooklyn while creating interest in the team in the borough.
“We have a neat marketing situation that’s going on,” Yormark said. “You have to be true to the hardcore fan, the one that’s been there since Day 1, if you will, on Long Island. But at the same time you have to balance that with the fact we have to create a whole new fanbase here in Brooklyn. How we communicate to those fanbases certainly will define our success.”
To create interest in the team and to introduce Long Island and Brooklyn fans to the Barclays hockey experience, the Islanders have played preseason games there in 2013 and 2014. Yormark noted that a staffed sales office has been built in Brooklyn, and he and his staff have spoken with Islanders fans at Nassau Coliseum.
According to Yormark, the overall reaction from Islanders fans based on those conversations has been “very positive.”
“They’re not thrilled that the team is moving, OK? But they rather [the team] move to Brooklyn than somewhere else in the country where they can’t frequent [games in person],” Yormark said.”I guess they’re making the most of the move and obviously have accepted it. So I think it’s fine. It’s not the best case scenario for them — [because] they probably would have liked for the Islanders to stay on Long Island — but they also realize they’re going to world-class venue in a world-class market, so there’s a lot of positives.”
To attract the Long Island fanbase, Barclays will have an organ and banners to commemorate the franchise’s history, according to Yormark, who reiterated that the team will retain its traditional blue, orange and white colors for the home and road jerseys, while creating a third sweater that is Brooklyn-centic.
“Very well could be,” Yormark said, when asked directly if the color scheme and logo for the third jersey could replicate that of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets. “The two brands and the two teams can certainly complement each other.”
To that end, the teams will participate in “a jersey exchange,” Yormark said. The idea has a two-pronged strategy with the first being a way to create a “synergy” between the respective fanbases. The second is “in some respects, a ceremony which passes the torch” from the Nets to the Islanders, Yormark said.
As part of the torch-passing, the Islanders will follow a similar plan to the one the Nets used to introduce themselves to Brooklyn following the move from New Jersey. The Nets’ campaign was entitled “Hello Brooklyn,” and members of the organization “engaged the community,” according to Yormark, in an attempt to build positive traction for the team in Brooklyn.
“You’ll see the same blueprint from the Islanders,” Yormark said. “One thing about the Islanders, they’ve always been a community-minded team, one that certainly has been active. We anticipate the same thing here in Brooklyn. We are going to define that community platform very clearly. You will see players very much engaged in this borough, no different than what you see with the Nets.”
Follow NHL writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.