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Deal with Coliseum Lease Holder Allows Isles to Play There During Restrictions

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Nassau Coliseum

An agreement between Nassau County and new Nassau Coliseum leaseholder Nassau Live Center LLC would allow for the New York Islanders to use the Coliseum during the COVID-19 restrictions should the NHL season start up in 2021, According to Newsday.

Nassau Live Center LLC, which is run by Florida businessman Nick Mastroianni II, took over operations of the Nassau Coliseum in August after Mikhail Prokhorov owned Onexim Sports and Entertainment shuttered the building earlier this year. The new arrangement between the County and Mastroianni would allow for Mastroianni to forgo the $4 million a month rent payments to Nassau County until at least next summer.

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As part of that, the Islanders would be allowed to play at the Coliseum with or without fans in the building next season. The 2020-21 season is the Islanders final one before they move to UBS Arena at Belmont Park.

In September Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters that the Islanders would play their final year before Belmont at Nassau Coliseum despite the uncertainty at the time surrounding the use of the county-owned facility.

“We will definitely be playing at the Coliseum next year. That is a confirmation,” Lamoriello said in September.

Off The Record: COVID Affect On NHL Season, Big Names Could Hit NHL Trade Market | NYHN+

The NHL is targeting a Jan. 1 start date, but there is no firm plan in place yet on how the league will start by that date. Among the many aspects the NHL is trying to plan for is whether or not they will use hub cities to begin the year or have teams play in their home arenas.

An amendment was also agreed upon, according to Newsday, that would give Mastroianni “until six months after the state lifts restrictions on arena events” to submit a plan to the County for the Nassau Coliseum. Oak View Group, which is a part owner and operator of the Islanders new arena at Belmont Park, proposed downsizing the Coliseum to a 5,000 seat music-focused venue.

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County Exec Laura Curran Remains Hopeful Fans will Be Allowed in Coliseum This Season

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An inside view of the New York Islanders home arena
Photo Credit: Darren McGee- Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

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.

County Exec Laura Curran Cheering on New York Islanders from Quarantine

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.”

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.”

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Should New York Islanders Explore Outdoor Hockey Games for 2020-21 Season?

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Should the New York Islanders play outdoors? NHL

NHL owners are exploring any way they can to make money this upcoming season with hockey-related revenue expected to take a massive hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes potentially playing multiple games in outdoor venues.

Multiple media reports have indicated that it is an idea that is on the table and that several teams specifically have shown interest in it. According to The Athletic, the Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes, Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, Nashville Predators and Florida Panthers have all expressed interest.

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Sportnet in Canada reported that the Anaheim Ducks were also among the teams interested.

For the record, that same report by The Athletic indicates that the New York Islanders do not want to participate in outdoor games this year. But is that the right call?

In general, the idea makes plenty of sense. Outdoor events are allowed larger crowds than indoor ones and various markets in the NFL have opened their stadiums to limited capacity crowds. The NHL is a gate-driven league and being able to host a higher volume of fans in a safe manner would be a big boost for the owners.

However, if you look at which teams are confirmed to have shown interest in the outdoor game idea, a majority of them are in states that are allowing limited numbers of fans into sporting events already. Boston, Los Angeles and Anaheim are the lone exceptions, with Los Angeles issuing new stay-at-home orders as COVID-19 numbers spike in the city and across the state of California.

In the Islanders case, the idea would be an exciting one to see come to fruition, but it remains unclear what benefit it would have for them financially. As of now, New York does not allow fans to attend professional sporting events in the state.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had previously expressed hope to allow limited numbers of fans to attend Buffalo Bills games. In early November Gov. Cuomo said it would be “reckless” to allow fans into the games, and with rising COVID-19 numbers across the state that likely won’t change any time soon.

So without fans likely allowed in the venue for the first month or so of the season anyway and the high cost it would be to rent out Citi Field or Yankee Stadium, it made sense to see the Islanders balk at the idea.

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Credit Charles Wang for Helping to Get New York Islanders to Belmont Park, Says Ledecky

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Charles Wang

When the New York Islanders new arena opens at Belmont Park next fall, you can be sure there will be plenty of dignitaries on hand to celebrate the occasion. One who won’t be is former Islanders owner Charles Wang.

The late Islanders owner passed away on Oct. 21, 2018, after a battle with lung cancer.

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While Wang won’t be able to celebrate the Islanders return to Long Island and Nassau County, currant co-owner Jon Ledecky said on Wednesday that Wang deserves a lot of credit for getting them to Belmont Park. Ledecky was speaking at a Sports Business Journal virtual event when the comments were made.

“A salute to Charles Wang, the former owner of the Islanders who was our partner,” Ledecky said, according to NY SportsDay. “He was the one who suggested having a meeting with NYRA (New York Racing Association) to go and see the site and that really stimulated all of us about what the possibilities would be at that campus.”

UBS Arena

It was Wang who had started looking at the idea of possibly building a new arena for the team at Belmont Park back in 2015, just as the Islanders were beginning their run at Barclays Center. Wang and NYRA board member Michael Dubb scouted the area in December of that year.

Several months later on a snowy day, Wang met with NYRA chief executive Christopher Kay.

“Charles deserves all the credit. The Islanders don’t come back to Long Island without Charles,” Dubb told Newsday in 2018 following Wang’s death.

Ledecky’s comments on Wednesday were also not his first praising Wang for the vision he had for the Islanders at the famed Long Island horse track. The current Islanders co-owner had a similar comment in 2018 as well.

UBS Arena“The arena at Belmont Park will be just one of (Charles Wang’s) many legacies left to the team and to Long Island,” Ledecky said in a statement at the time.

While Wang’s vision helped get the ball rolling, the Islanders do owe a debt of gratitude to the current governor of New York Andrew Cuomo. Gov. Cuomo has been one of the biggest — and most influential — supporters of the Islanders arena project.

It’s the most support the Islanders have had politically since former New York Gov. David Patterson threw some support behind the Lighthouse Project in 2009.

“Thank you to Governor Cuomo because without his vision of the need for the Islanders who had needed a new home for over two decades…his vision of going to Belmont and about recognizing Belmont as a site that could work, we wouldn’t be there right now,” Ledecky said during the SBJ event.

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