When it comes to the idea of fans attending New York Islanders games at the Nassau Coliseum this season, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran isn’t giving up hope.
The Islanders open the home portion of their schedule on Monday against the Boston Bruins, but the home opener will have a different feel in front of an empty building. The 2020-21 season is the final year the Islanders will play at the Coliseum, with their new home at Belmont Park slated to open this fall.
“Never say never would be my motto,” county executive Curran told NYI Hockey Now about the prospects of fans attending games at some point. The Nassau County Executive spoke with NYI Hockey Now over the phone on Sunday.
There’s been renewed hope that fans might be able to return to sporting events in New York in a limited capacity following the success of the Buffalo Bills allowing 6,700 fans to their two playoff games at Bills Stadium. Fans were allowed to attend after being tested for COVID-19 before entering the stadium and adhering to social distancing rules once inside the venue.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressed a desire to use the Bills model to open up other sports and entertainment venues in the state.
The county executive acknowledged the success of the Bills plan, while also noting that there was a difference with the NFL team playing outdoors. Nassau County also has to weigh the financial benefits of opening the building to a limited number of fans if they get to that point.
“One thing you have to think about is even limited attendance, say 25 percent, is a real economic loser for the building,” Curran said. “You don’t have the people buying concessions and beer and all that. You still have the cost of opening, the cost of security and staffing. It might not be worth it.”
The county executive said that the Islanders were exploring what that number might need to be to make it economically feasible to open the Nassau Coliseum to fans, but that it was still too early to come up with a solid figure for that.
Nassau County has been having ongoing conversations with the state government about how to adapt the Bills plan for the Islanders and other venues on Long Island, Curran said.
The county executive has been a vocal supporter of both the Islanders’ UBS Arena at Belmont Park and the team’s early full-time return to Long Island before the opening of the new venue this fall. Curran lobbied NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to allow the Isles to play all their home games at Nassau Coliseum during their final year before the move to Belmont Park.
On Jan. 29, Gov. Cuomo announced that the Islanders would return to the Coliseum for one full final season during a press conference at the team’s long time home.
“This is the last season, I wrote that letter to Gary Bettman saying can we have the last season at the Barn,” Curran said. “He said yes, so I’d at least like to have something. Some fan activity there if we can. It depends on the vaccine. It depends on what the state allows us to do in terms of capacity and it depends on what makes sense financially for the building.”
Tonight it’s MSG but Monday the #Isles are at the Coliseum for their home opener.
Is there a chance fans can attend games this season?@NassauExecutive says Yes..Yes..
(sry she only ended with two)@News12LI @IslesBlog pic.twitter.com/DFHvNNxVrL
— jamie stuart (@N12jamiestuart) January 16, 2021
During an interview with News 12 Long Island, the county executive expressed optimism that fans could be allowed back in the building in time for the playoffs. It was a sentiment she reiterated during her conversation with NYI Hockey Now.
“I do believe it’s within the realm of possibility,” she said.
There was some question last year whether the Islanders would even be able to play at the Nassau Coliseum or not after the venue was shuttered by Onexim Sports and Entertainment in June. The county was able to work out a deal so that businessman Nick Mastroianni would take over the lease and operations of the venue.
“It’s county property so he is now our tenant until we work out a longer-term deal,” Curran said. “This was a good way to handle this moment, especially if we can open up. Especially if we can have games in the Coliseum we needed someone there ready to operate the building and he’s doing that.”