NHL’s Islanders Are Considering a Move to Queens With Mets Help

NHL's Islanders Said to Weigh Queens Move With Mets Help
  • First season in Brooklyn disappointed hockey fans, team owners
  • Team being advised by Azoff’s Oak View Group with ties to MSG

The New York Islanders are in talks with the owners of baseball’s New York Mets about building a hockey arena adjacent to Citi Field in Queens, people with knowledge of the discussions said.

Willets Point is emerging as a persuasive alternative to the team’s current home at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center if the Islanders’s owners and arena officials can’t agree on a series of hockey-specific improvements, said the people, who asked for anonymity because the negotiations are private.

The team’s first season at Barclays Center, which is owned by Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, was marred by poor reviews from fans, who complained about obstructed view seats, and from players, who who said the quality of the ice was sub-par. The team’s owners also realized they couldn’t make as much money as their league counterparts, most of which play in bigger arenas.

The Islanders, who are owned by Value Retail Plc founder Scott Malkin and Jonathan Ledecky, and Sterling Equities, which owns the Mets, have been discussing a possible move to Queens for months, said the people.

The team is being advised in the talks by Oak View Group, a consulting firm founded by ex-AEG CEO Tim Leiweke and Irving Azoff, who is a business partner of the Madison Square Garden Company, which owns the Knicks and the Rangers. MSG CEO James Dolan once gave Azoff credit for bringing hall-of-fame basketball coach Phil Jackson to the Knicks.

“Last week, Jon Ledecky told the media and later fans at a town hall event that ‘Barclays is our home,”’ Barclays Center spokesman Barry Baum said in an e-mail. “Anyone with questions about this should contact Islanders ownership.”

Ledecky referred questions to Islanders spokesman Kimber Auerbach, who said the team does not comment on speculation. A call to Sterling Equities’ general counsel was not immediately returned. Oak View didn’t respond immediately to a request for comment.

Barclays Center, also home to basketball’s Brooklyn Nets, is small by NHL standards. It holds 15,700 for hockey, including about 1,500 obstructed-view seats. The Islanders averaged 13,626 fans a game this past season, down 11 percent from the year before. Among the league’s 30 teams, only Arizona and Carolina drew fewer fans.

The prospective arena at Willets Point, also the home of the National Tennis Center where the the U.S. Open is played, would put the team closer to its original fan base in Long Island. Returning to a renovated Nassau Coliseum is not an option for the team’s owners, the people said.

Malkin and Ledecky paid $485 million for the Islanders in 2014 but didn’t take control of the franchise until July 1 of this year. The purchase price -- much more than the $325 million value of the team estimated by Forbes -- was based in part on the team having a home in New York City.

Former Islanders owner Charles Wang moved the team to the Barclays Center after failing to get taxpayer funds to build a new arena on the site of the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, the team’s home since 1972. Wang said the team was losing tens of millions annually at the Coliseum, which is also owned by Prokhorov.

The original Frank Gehry design for the Barclays Center would have accommodated more fans for hockey. That design was scrapped amid cost-cutting, however, and the ensuing design was smaller.

As part of the Barclays lease, the Islanders in an unusual move agreed to surrender control of the team’s business operations, the New York Post reported. In exchange, Barclays Center agreed to pay the team an average of $53.5 million a year.

In 2012, Sterling and partner Related Cos., developer of the Hudson Yards rail depot, made an agreement with the city to redevelop Willets Point, an area east of the Mets’ ballpark filled with auto shops and junkyards. The plan called for stores and entertainment attractions on both sides of Citi Field.

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