The New York Islanders are one of the NHL’s most storied franchises, but in recent years they have come upon hard times. Much of this is due to poor management and on-ice decisions, but a great deal of their problems are due to playing in the hopelessly outdated Nassau Coliseum. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has described the arena as the worst pro sports arena in North America. Not only is the arena the second oldest in the league, but the Islanders do not even get all of the revenue. The building is owned by the town of Nassau, and as such the town gets part of the ticket revenues and all of the concessions. This is almost unheard of in any other arena. In a Grantland article Katie Baker writes that, “The Islanders could theoretically sell out every game every night and lose money regardless.” It is clear that the Islanders are in an untenable situation and need a new arena, or at the very least a renegotiation of their lease that is not due to run out until 2015. The owners went to the city council with a proposal for taxpayer funding for a new arena. This led to a 400 million dollar bond referendum on August 1st that failed. The taxes in Long Island, and Nassau County in particular are extremely high so it was a reasonable decision to vote against another tax hike but it has put the Islanders ownership group led by Charles Wang in a very uncomfortable position. The team needs a new arena but he would prefer not to have to move a team with such a long history.
Since public funding is not an option for the Islanders new arena then relocation or a privately financed arena are the only two remaining choices. Relocation is clearly unsavory so lets look at the feasibility of a privately financed arena. These are exceedingly rare in sports today but it is possible as the proposed, and fully funded Los Angeles stadium shows. Unfortunately Wang has already attempted an extremely ambitious project similar to the Los Angeles Stadium and had it fail. This plan, called The Lighthouse Project, was a 3.8 billion dollar attempt to build a new stadium, and create a suburban center around it consisting of hotels, housing, and restaurants that in theory would have been an economic boon to the area. The plan failed due to lack of zoning approval by the town of Hempstead.
Islanders owner Charles Wang has tried through both private and public funding to build an arena suitable for an NHL franchise but has been rebuffed on both counts by public officials. Relocation is always controversial and in many cases seems downright wrong but here it may be a viable option. This is not to say that the Islanders must, or even should move but that it is an option that Wang could defend if he chooses to take it. Sound off in the comments with your thoughts about the Islanders. Do they have a right to move given the lack of support from the local governments of should they honor the length of their lease, regardless of the effect it has on the team and its future?