Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Playing Below Capacity: New York Islanders

Welcome to the fifth edition of Playing Below Capacity; a weekly series here at Puck Money where I take a look at the teams who (as of December, when I started this) are playing below 85% capacity to see what the teams are doing right and wrong in terms of attendance. The first edition was the Devils, followed by the Kings, then by the Predators and Coyotes (both featured on Yahoo!'s Puck Daddy Headlines). Today, I visit Uniondale, New York; where the New York Islanders have been a hot topic as of late in revenue sharing (yesterday, as you can see). The Isles are ranked 26th in attendance by capacity thus far through 24 home games, coming in at 83.9%. So let's go.*

*Warning: Please remember that I'm a young college kid who thinks he knows what he's talking about. Any "problems" that I suggest the Islanders have are my opinion and are most likely easily arguable. Any information I used can easily be found on the Internet as well. With that said, enjoy.

Here are the ideas I came up with that could be problems with getting people to go to Islanders game on a regular basis...
  • Arena Location/Age
  • High Ticket Prices/Poor Promotional Events
  • Metro Population
  • On Ice Product
  • Location/History of Franchise
  • Other
To get started, some basic facts about the New York Islanders (wikipedia):
  • The Islanders were founded in 1972 when Ray Boe was awarded a franchise by the NHL in response to the WHA looking to place a team on the Island in Nassau County as well. The Islanders began play in 1972-1973.
  • In 36 completed seasons, the Islanders have made the playoffs 21 times. They have been to the Stanley Cup Finals five times, all consecutive, winning the first four in a row from 1980 through 1983. They made the playoffs 13 consecutive times from 1975 through 1988. They last made the playoffs in '06-'07, and they last won a playoff series in '92-'93.
  • They have played all 37 seasons at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
  • The capacity for Ice Hockey at the Coliseum is said to be 16,234.
Lets start the fun:

- Arena Location/Age

The Coliseum is considered one of the worse arenas currently in the NHL. It has the smallest capacity and is the third oldest arena behind Madison Square Garden and Mellon Arena. The arena is located in Uniondale, around 20 miles from New York City. It is surrounded by homes what seems like more of a suburban setting. Take a look for yourself (click to enlarge):

The location in terms from New York City for the Islanders isn't great. Some have suggested that they move out of Nassau and attempt to get closer to the city, but I'm not sure that will make a difference. Everyone knows about Islanders Owner Charles Wang plan to renovate the Coliseum with his Lighthouse plan, which would create thousands of jobs by bringing in two luxury housing complexes, a five star hotel, a good sized mall, and much more.

The Islanders arena location and age definitely affects the teams attendance. Wang has ran into trouble getting his Lighthouse plan approved and moving, but if he does achieve this, it will most likely save the Islanders from moving out.

- High Ticket Prices/Poor Promotional Events

The Islanders rank 13th in teammarketing.com's Fan Cost Index, coming in at $287.86. As we recall, the Fan Cost Index:
comprises the prices of four (4) average-price tickets, two (2) small draft beers, four (4) small soft drinks, four (4) regular-size hot dogs, parking for one (1) car, two (2) game programs and two (2) least-expensive, adult-size adjustable caps.
They are within a dollar in both average ticket price and the FCI compared to the NHL, with the Islanders average ticket price being $48.84 to the NHL's $49.66. The club did not raise their ticket prices this season, which is a great selling point. The Islanders average premium ticket price comes in at $89.64, almost $25 lower than the NHL average of $113.44. This shows that they are taking care of whatever season-ticket fan base they have, which is always good.

Are these ticket prices "high" ? I would say yes and no. They are relatively high compared to the rest of the league, but one thing you have to remember is that we are dealing with New York City and its surrounding suburbs; and in this case the more financially secure Long Island suburbs. I would be willing to bet that most hockey fans on Long Island could afford to go to a couple games a year, at least.

The Islanders marketing department is doing its job, though. They have plenty of Events at the games over the season, along with one or two giveaways per month. They also have plenty of partners to sponsor the games as well (all from Islanders site). A date that caught my eye when looking at this was Saturday February 21st, with the Devils visiting the Island at 7:00 PM. They have an event, a giveaway, and it is the Lighthouse and Long Island newsday. I will have to see if this creates a positive buzz and gives the Lighthouse project a bump.

The club also offers great family fun packs, and really focuses on the children with their NYI Kids Season Pass. The Season pass for $230 gives them 23 home games which include usually sold-out rivlary games against the Flyers, Devils, and Rangers. What a great deal, in my opinion, as I am a huge proponent at marketing hockey towards kids (who usually have a greater attention span to sports than some adults).

So are the tickets kind of high? Yes, but the club offers up some great deals and really won me over in terms of marketing with such a focus on family and children ticket offers.

- Metro Population

Uniondale, New York, is the smallest "city" to have an NHL team, at just above 23,000 in population. Statshockey.net puts the metro population for the Islanders at around 7.5 million. In reality, they do have access to the city as well, which would put them more around 15 to 18 million.

In all honesty, the population isn't an issue. They obviously have always had a unique challenge than any other team, sharing such a close territory with an original six team in the New York Rangers. If the Lighthouse Project doesn't get off the ground, those looking for relocation of the franchise will point to the population which might be the dagger that sees the Islanders move off of Long Island.

- On-Ice Product

The Islanders on-ice troubles started over a decade ago in the mid-90's with poor front office management. This has troubled their recent attendance, as you can see with the chart (click to enlarge):

The Islanders haven't broken the top 20 in attendance in almost a decade, as you can see. Even their solid season in 2001-2002 didn't really produce a bump that one would quite expect. The same went for their return to the playoffs in 2006-2007.

The Islanders do have a solid group of youngsters, though. Led by Kyle Okposo (20) and Blake Comeau (22) up front with Chris Campoli (24) and Mark Striet (31, ok he's not "young," but he's good) on defense, the Islanders have a core needed to put together a solid team just as any other NHL club. With the right role-players, the Islanders could be a threat even next year. But for the rest of this season, things do not look good on Long Island, with a league-low 35 points in the standings.

The on-ice product has no doubt had an affect with the Islanders attendance. If they can turn the team around in the next couple of years, they could attract a great new fan base with a solid team and a new (hopefully) arena.

- Location/History of Franchise

Any general NHL fan knows the great history of the New York Islanders in the 1980's. Most franchises would kill for the great and rapid history of the Islanders, making the playoffs in over 58% of their seasons. Unfortunately, the franchise has struggled in the past decade or so, and in the new global world of sports where the attitude is more along the lines of "what have you done for me lately?" the Islanders are just plain out of luck.

Everyone knows about their location issues. They are in a great location in general, but at the same time they face different challenges than any other team (except the Devils, kind of) in the league. But when it comes down to it, New York in general is very-much a hockey city and state. Through my experiences with USA hockey, Long Island has some great youth hockey along with some solid junior programs. Lets put it this way; if I had to pick a place to put an NHL franchise and it came down between Long Island and Phoenix, I would easily go with Long Island.

- Other

Another challenge the club faces is its inability under the current CBA to obtain revenue sharing funds. Now although these funds would go more towards covering the lost costs in failed ticket sales, it would nonetheless help the franchise operate. According to Forbes, the Islanders are the 29th most valuable team in the league at $154 million, but are last in revenue at $64 million; which includes the lucrative television contract in which MSG pays the Islanders $20 million a season to broadcast the games, a fee that lasts through the 2030-2031 season and eventually increases and caps at $36 million.

Still, the Islanders have an operating revenue of -$8.8 million, which revenue sharing would cover if the Isles weren't automatically disqualified because of their location in a top TV market.

- Conclusion

The Islanders have a boatload (pun intended) of issues to work out. The club has been in a great yet tough location since their first season, so although it has always been an issue, can it keep being blamed over and over? Also, the key to a Islanders franchise turn-around will be to develop a good on-ice product along with getting the Lighthouse project going so that on-ice product can thrive in a brand new arena. They are also apart of the clubs that easily fib their attendance night in and night out; which is a necessary thing to do, but it never looks good.

Personally, I don't think the Islanders are going anywhere. I still believe that any team that has won a cup will have a big problem trying to move out, and with the Islanders having such a great history, that will be extremely tough. But, at the same time, the recent failures and poor management have drove away many of the older fans that witnessed the four consecutive cup runs; and have thus left a particularly weak fan base.

On the upside though is the hope for the future. If the Lighthouse project can get approved it will no doubt save the Islanders from any more relocation murmurs. Also, with the great marketing job done with family and children, I believe that will pay dividends for years to come.

Do I have the answers for this club? Absolutely not; and I'm not sure many do. But with just this short time taking a look at the club I get the feeling that not all is as bad as some make it out to be. They do sell-out games, with 4 this year. And they do benefit from having two great natural rivals in the Devils and Rangers.

What will be really interesting is if the Lighthouse plans goes south and Charles Wang eventually wants out. Then, my friends, the fun will really begin.

So that's about it for this edition of Playing Below Capacity. Coming up next week is the Carolina Hurricanes, which should be an interesting edition of the series as well. Please feel free to comment and let me know if I've made a mistake.

Thanks, and maybe more later.


  1. The Islanders owner is a bit eccentric to be kind. And their GM is arguably the worst in the NHL. You want root causes? Those are two good places to start.

  2. Attendance problem is not caused by location or price but is a direct result of continual failure. As a long islander i can tell you that most of my fellow fans choose to watch the team lose from home instead of paying for the pain. Location wise, it is great, located centrally in one of the most prosperous counties in the US with close proximity to one of the largest city in the world. the isles only problem is THEIR FAILURE TO FIELD A COMPETITIVE TEAM (note: the league is filled with ex-islander all stars)

  3. While I wholeheartedly agree with the previous two comments, I have something else to add. I went back home to Long Island a couple weeks ago for a visit and of course I had to catch a game while I was there - Islanders vs. Ducks. After living in LA for four years and attending Kings games at The Staples Center, I had almost forgotten that not all arenas are so pimped out. In fact, compared the The Staples Center, The Coliseum is a total dump! Personally, I felt cheated by the arena experience. Pair that with the fact that The Islanders have royally sucked for over ten years and it's a no-brainer. Like Anonymous said, "watch the team lose from home instead of paying for the pain". Sure, go ahead with The Lighthouse Project, AND be prepared to step it up on the ice you want any attendants.