Photo Credit: CBS New York
The controversial new home of the New York Islanders was abuzz Friday night for their home opener as the team took on the reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. The game began with a video honoring the team’s Stanley Cup dynasty. The video also made a point of showing that while they are still the “Islanders”, they are now Brooklyn’s team. In addition, Islanders legends were present to commemorate late Hall of Fame coach, Al Arbour who passed away last month. The positivity for the night ended there.
The Islanders looked slow, and were failing to connect on passes throughout the first period. Also of note, both teams were having trouble staying upright as the ice was incredibly soft and according to players, “slushy”. Even after tightening their game up during the second and third periods, the Islanders ultimately fell to the Hawks after taking a penalty and allowing a goal during the newly implemented 3 on 3 overtime.
The move from the team’s original home, Nassau Coliseum, has been a sore spot for fans since the change was first announced. There have been complaints from fans from the very first pre-season game at the Barclays Center in September of 2013. Despite complaints, fans hoped that some of the issues would be resolved and that the arena would ultimately begin to feel like home by the time the team actually settled in. However, as the night finally arrived, it appeared that Barclays did not do much to create a home-like atmosphere for this displaced hockey fan base.
In recent weeks, the team has announced various changes, one of which involved changing the team’s goal horn. The new horn, which was tested during some of the pre-season games was supposed to mimic the horn of an MTA train. This was an effort to further push the “take the train to the game” mentality that has been shoved in fans faces since this move began to take shape. However, fans recognized what this was, and jumped at the chance to criticize the weak sounding goal horn. Many took to twitter, calling out the Barclays CEO, Brett Yormark, voicing their displeasure with him, and the horn. Yormark appeared on “The Michael Kay Show”, explaining that while they are going to bring back the original goal horn, he made it clear that it was not due to fan’s influence. He went on to say he did not appreciate the way fans “attacked” him and the organization. This did not deter fans from booing Yormark any time he appeared on the jumbotron on Friday night. Based on the reactions to opening night, it seems Yormark may continue to be in poor favor with fans for the foreseeable future.
The evening began with pouring rain as fans filed out from the subway and Long Island Rail Road station directly across from the arena. Lines to get in as it neared puck drop were not horrible, and getting through the metal detectors went fairly quickly. However, fans who had arrived closer to the time that the doors opened, at 6 pm, had a much busier and less organized experience. Many complained of long lines, unclear direction, and curt staff. Upon walking into the arena, attendees were greeted by the site of the now famous off-center score board. There is also a platform that houses Nassau Coliseum’s organ along with organist, Paul Cartier who has been brought over from the team’s old digs on Long Island. On this platform, Shannon Hogan and Stan Fischler along with the in-house DJ also have their posts set up.
The main concourse on the first level of the building offers an array of food and beverage options, which are without a doubt of a higher caliber than what fans were used to at the Barn. There were also various kiosks set up selling new Black and White “Brooklyn” branded team merchandise along with items with the more familiar Blue and Orange color scheme. In addition to the kiosks there is what would appear to be a team store. However, instead of it saying “Islanders team store” or anything of that nature, the sign above the door read “Nets Shop”. Now this may be a small detail, and some may argue that the Islanders are the buildings “minority” or “second” franchise, but the facility had more than enough time to change signage and make it feel a bit more like this would be the Islanders home for the foreseeable future. Buildings throughout the NHL house more than ones sports franchise and it is highly unlikely that they are unable to either change the signage depending on the game day or simply come up with a solution that represents the franchises equally. This seemed to be a large oversight on the part of the Barclays center.
Watching warm ups has long been a staple of the experience of going to a hockey game for many people. However, Barclays Center staff either chose to ignore this tradition, or simply does not care. The ushers were unpleasant, cold, and refused to let fans watch warm ups from the lower bowl. The strict nature of the arena’s seating staff is far from the friendly, laid back attitude that Islanders fans have become accustomed to when dealing with venue personnel. The seating itself at the arena is not conducive to watching a hockey game. Certain seats are considered “partial view” and provide fans with an obstructed view of the ice, causing them to miss action happening at the near goal. In addition, the seats in the upper deck are at such an angle that you must sit all the way forward and lean a bit to see the ice properly. The rows are so close together that walking through the row to get through is nearly impossible. Aside from seating, it appeared that attendance was an issue as well. While the seats in the upper deck was nearly packed, there were large sections of the lower bowl that were entirely empty. Even with the empty lower bowl, the game was supposedly “sold out”.
With the “sold out” crowd it appears that the crowd may have been too much for the arena to handle. Throughout the night fans stated that the corridors became overcrowded, and that lines for the rest rooms and concessions were just as bad if not worse than at Nassau Coliseum. People were unable to leave their seat and get food, or use the restroom and make it back to their seat before the next period’s starting face-off. Fans explained that while overcrowded restrooms and long lines for food were an issue at the Coliseum, they would think that it would be better here since this is a “state of the art facility”. Many food kiosks were not in service, and although attendance during pre-season was not nearly what it was on Friday night, based on ticket sales alone, the arena should have known what to expect and how to accommodate the crowds.
Throughout the game, the crowd was not shy about voicing their opinions. When the newly crafted, co-ed ice crew came out, the crowd began chants of “we want ice girls”. While the crew was more efficient than the ice girls, it is yet another change from the culture Islanders fans are accustomed to. During a T.V. time out, the camera showed players from the Brooklyn Nets wearing the new black and white Islanders third jersey, which garnered a stream of “boos” from the crowd. Additionally, during the game comments were made about how hard it was to hear, as the audio kept cutting out. It was nearly impossible to hear the on-ice officials or even the PA announcer. The goal horn and song were also hard to hear throughout the arena. The audio wasn’t the only technical issue of the night. More than once after there would be a giveaway or ad during a TV time out, the presenter would be left on screen with nothing to say, the cameras not cutting away, making for an awkward few seconds. It appears that there are some issues that the A/V team needs to get sorted out even though it probably should have happened already.
The final complaint of fans was the commute. Many fans were used to being home within 40 minutes of the game ending back when the team played in Uniondale. However, with the new arena being in Brooklyn, many fans said that Friday Night would be their first and possibly only time making the trek to Barclays as they just got home too late for it to be plausible. In addition, for a family of four to go to the game, round trip Long Island Rail Road fare will add at least 60 dollars to their family’s outing, many said they cannot see that cost being sustainable over the course of the season. Those who are able to take the train, if Friday was any indication, will face cramped, over-crowded trains for the thirty minutes it takes to get from Atlantic Terminal, where Barclays is located to Jamaica, one of the main LIRR hubs.
Overall, the arena has potential, whether the arena and team reaches that potential remains to be seen. Do I see the changes being made to the point of Islanders fans eventually loving this place? In all honesty, no. Based on the behavior of the organization thus far, and based on the fan reactions of last night and the various pre-season games throughout this and previous years, I believe it will be an uphill battle for Barclays to convince Islanders fans that this will be a good home for their team.