Earlier this week, the owner of the New York Islanders hockey team has announced that the team will be moving from the Nassau Coliseum to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in 2015.
Given that the Islanders have been around since 1972 and have a rich history on Long Island, winning four Stanley Cup championships during the 1980's, this decision seemed inevitable given that ownership had tried in vain to negotiate with Nassau County, the Town of Hempstead and arena leaseholders over the last number of years to either refurbish the existing arena or build a new one.
One of the driving forces to make the move for the team's owner, Charles Wang, was when his proposed $3.75 billion real estate transformation project called The Lighthouse Project was voted down resoundingly by Nassau County taxpayers in August 2011. The new arena for the team was the centerpiece of The Lighthouse Project.
Unfortunately, the ones who had been caught in the middle of this transition, between previous sketchy owners, long stretches of sub-par performance, possibilities of the team moving away to Kansas City or Quebec, and this most current game of "political chicken", are the Islander fans themselves.
Islander fans, even though they haven't seen a lot of success out of their team in recent years, are as loyal as they come.
After the heyday of their glory year championship run, Islander fans have endured the last 18 seasons without winning a playoff round, a frauduent owner who was considered to be a savior in John Spano, questionable long term contract to players who were oft-injured, management merry-go-rounds, battles with bad guys named Tucker and Hunter, and, most painful of all, watching local rivals New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils win four championships amid more playoff appearances between them in the last 20 years.
As well as probably having the most broken down home arena in all of the NHL - until 2015, that is.
Which poses a question and a challenge for the Islander faithful: will they extend their commute an additional 35 miles into Brooklyn to follow their team, or will they relent to the added distance and not attend games any more?
The good news is that the team is still in the area and are accessible to fans, rather than them ending up in Kansas City or Quebec or someplace else. They'll still maintain their brand, carry their rich history and keep ties to the glory years and Hall of Fame players.
Another positive is that with a bright, shiny new arena to call home, and the prospect of playing in the perimeter of New York City, it'll provide Islanders ownership a better opportunity to attract marquee free agent talent. It was no secret that the Islanders had a tough time drawing free agents into Nassau while playing in front of sparse crowds in a broken down old hockey barn.
Equally important, the move to the Barclay's Center also allows Charles Wang to have a solid arena partner while he can focus on growing the franchise again, rather than be dogged by local politics around finding a new home.
Outside of distance, some of the challenges that Islander fans will face will be centered around economics, lifestyle and competition.
For economics, moving into a new arena will mean higher ticket prices, as well as experiencing more difficulty in parking in downtown Brooklyn on Atlantic Avenue. The best way to get to the Barclays Arena is by train, which will make the ride back and forth from the games longer. The round trip ticket on the LIRR will also be more expensive than parking at the old arena.
Since Day 1, Islander fans have mostly driven to Nassau Coliseum, from all points of the Island, as well as parts of the city and New Jersey. Taking the train to games from areas like eastern Suffolk and having multiple stops along the way is probably not in their DNA.
For competition, it is imperative for ownership to beginning investing in the team as soon as possible (or whenever the current lockout of the players is settled), as he will initially have a tough time getting new season ticket holders (as it's likely he'll lose a significant amount of his current season ticket base) and local sponsors going into 2015 unless the team improves significantly. Nothing fills seats and sells sponsorships like a winning team.
Especially if that team plays in New York Ranger territory.
For Islander fans, they may have to go a little farther and spend a little more to see their team and the young stars that they have today like Moulson, Tavares and Okposo.
But one constant remains - they're still the New York Islanders. Not the Kansas City Islanders or Islanders du Quebec City.
New. York. Islanders.
When they're not in labor struggles, the National Hockey League can absolutely be the best team sport out of all of the major professional sports, with hockey being a tremendous live showcase for speed, strength, grit and toughness.
Let's hope that Charles Wang gives the fans a great reason to follow them to Brooklyn, so like the famed tree in Brooklyn, they can grow together.