by watchful hockey fan Dan Marley (check out Dan’s hockey blog, too…)
Over on the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, New York, a new sports and entertainment complex is being built.
Named the Barclays Center, its expected completion date is in September of 2012.
With the New Jersey Nets of the National Basketball Association relocating here, big-league professional sports will be back in Brooklyn for the first time since 1957. With the Nets, more tenants might make the Barclays Center their new home.
According to sources, the New York Islanders of the National Hockey League will more than likely fill in one of the open spots.
In their first decade of operations, the Nets and Islanders played in the same venue in Long Island, bringing forth a nostalgic intention of reuniting the two teams under one roof. This move would be great for the Islanders, however, skepticism and financial worries center on this potential move.
Since 1972, the Islanders have played at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where they won four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1983. Their thirteen consecutive playoff appearances from the 1975 to 1988 seasons too brought in heavy volumes of fans and fan favorites like Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin, Billy Smith, Mike Bossy, and Clark Gilles.
After the 1989 season, however, two decades of missing the playoffs, poor trades, and early postseason exits led to a decline in attendance and popularity. The 2004/05 NHL Lockout and 2008 United States economic recession were of no help to this team’s woes, as the rise of lacrosse and the poor economy in Nassau and Suffolk counties contributed to the franchise’s steady demise.
According to ESPN, the Islanders averaged 11,000 fans per game, the worst in the NHL. Of these fans, a majority of them were fans of their Atlantic Division rivals and of the notorious Quebec-ians that migrated from Quebec City on several occasions who wish to bring the Nordiques back into the NHL.
To make matters worse, fans found other ways to use their tickets instead of going to the games or selling them online for a dime a dozen.
Greg “Opie” Hughes of The Opie and Anthony Show broadcasted his feelings about his favorite hockey club all over YouTube by dumping his tickets into the Hudson River after the Isles had lost its seventeenth in 18 games early in the 2010/11 regular season.
Also, when the vote this summer came for a new arena on the Island, no one showed up to the voting booths. Those who were able to make some kind of effort to cast their ballot voted “NO”.
If the Islanders cannot make ends meet now, how would they be able to do so 30 miles west?
These reasons do not just affect the Islanders; they also affect the rest of the league.
Apart from the Islanders, the New York Rangers are playing at the newly renovated Madison Square Garden five miles north of the new site. The Rangers have one of the biggest fan bases in the league, and a huge following across the globe. Also, the New Jersey Devils play ten miles west in Newark, New Jersey, and have a steadily growing fandom.
It is because of this that NHL hockey will not be able to properly thrive in Brooklyn. However, a minor league hockey team will be able to find a home here.
Right now, the Rangers have an affiliation agreement with the Connecticut Whale of the American Hockey League. The Whale play 120 miles away from Madison Square Garden, and the travel between destinations on game day plays a heavy toll on the players being called up and sent down.
The traffic from the airports to the arena during rush hour too is critical, delaying the arrival of the players, giving them less preparation time for their upcoming contests.
Another dilemma with this affiliation is the poor attendance at the XL Center in the Hartford Metropolitan Area. In an arena that seats 15,000-plus, the Whale average only 5,600 per game, as of the 2010/11 season. Reasons being due to the poor conditions of the XL Center in Hartford and the emotional toll that took place in 1997 when the Hartford Whalers relocated to North Carolina.
A clear indication of dissatisfaction was seen during the Whale Bowl, the AHL’s “Winter Classic” that saw very little interest in the Hartford community. The crowd attendance was equivalent to the maximum capacity of the men’s bathroom at the University of Connecticut football field.
A change in scenery would be best for the organization and for player development.
An affiliation in Brooklyn for the Rangers will preserve a New York hockey identity within the five boroughs and make call ups and send downs easier to regulate and conduct.
Instead of a plane or long car ride to and from Hartford, players will be taking a short subway ride between boroughs, cutting down travel time and making arrangements stress-free.
Because of the close proximity of the two teams, fans can meet and greet with future Rangers and help better promote player and team development in the upcoming seasons. If fans want to see how the prospects are doing, they can go to the games at an affordable price and see them play, rather than look up highlights online or read biased articles that do not depict the real style of play that they witnessed.
As for media agreements, WKRB (90.3 FM) and Brooklyn Community Access Television Brooklyn can air the games.
WKRB currently broadcast the Brooklyn Cyclones (Single-A affiliate of the New York Mets) of the New York-Penn League and the addition of a sports team to a student-based network can lead to more advertising, scholastic programs, and financial interests to the Brooklyn Center for Media Education.
The biggest concern centering on this move would be the scheduling of games and transportation.
In regards to this, the AHL can make the Brooklyn team’s schedule non-conflicting with the NHL’s, having them play at home when they are on the road and vice versa or playing on the other’s off days.
Another concern is keeping the AHL and NHL 30 teams even.
Relocation would be required, and there are two perfect candidates for this: the Whale and the Abbotsford Heat.
In Hartford, there have been murmurs about building a new sports and entertainment complex in the surrounding area with the slightest hint of bringing back their beloved Whalers. If construction does go underway, the Whale would need to relocate, and Brooklyn would be a perfect fit for the farm team.
When the Heat popped into the hockey picture in British Colombia as the farm team for the Calgary Flames, all major markets in that area focused their attention on the Heat, disrupting broadcasting agreements with the Chilliwack Bruins of the Western Hockey League. Chilliwack and Abbotsford are very close neighbors.
Media focus of the Heat led to a major decline in profits for Chilliwack and eventually to their relocation in the B.C. capital of Victoria.
“You don’t do what Calgary did here,” said Daryl Porter, former owner of the Chilliwack Bruins, on Chilliwack’s 89.5 The Hawk back in April, “… [There’s a code in minor sports, and especially in hockey]… the fundamental bad break at the end of the day [turned us into victims].”
Ironically, the WHL reigns more supreme than their AHL competitor in the Western Canadian province. Despite the new complex that was built in Abbotsford, the team averaged less than 50 percent attendance, while the Chilliwack Bruins averaged over 60-percent at the 5,000-plus during their tenure at the Prospera Center.
By relocating the Heat to Brooklyn, not only would the Rangers have a closer minor league affiliate, the popularity and media rights to the B.C. Division of the WHL will be preserved and given more room to grow.
The Aviators play at Aviator Sports and Events Center down the road on Flatbush Avenue. The organization has developed a winning dynasty, with two league championship appearances and one title dating back to the time they were the New York Aviators of the North East Professional Hockey League.
The decision of moving the Aviators to a new location, the Brooklyn AHL team using Aviator Sports as a training facility, and naming the new AHL team after these Aviators are not the best of ideas.
However, the two can coexist where both can benefit from an affiliation agreement with the Rangers.
Currently, the Aviators are the “proud” affiliate of the Wheeling Nailers, who are the East Coast Hockey League affiliate for the Montreal Canadiens and the Pittsburgh Penguins. New York fans are not too fond of either of these teams.
To better promote hockey in Brooklyn and preserve a New York identity, the Aviators should consider signing an affiliation agreement with the Greenville Road Warriors of the ECHL, who are currently the AA farm team for the Rangers.
Also, when it comes to scheduling, since the FHL plays their games primarily on weekends, both leagues must make sure that if both teams play on the same day, they should not play at the same time. Everyone gets a cool taste of the good old hockey game in Brooklyn at every level.
The National Hockey League must not consider allowing any team to occupy a space at the Barclays Center, especially one that has a decaying fan base and is in close proximity of popular and successful franchises like the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers. Instead, the American Hockey League is a perfect fit, as a center for player development and affordable family fun. It may not happen right away, but proper delegation of the idea will work great and spread the word of hockey in a very positive way.