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Nassau Coliseum is Where Isles Should Play Next Season, says Tim Leiweke

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Nassau Coliseum

The New York Islanders are supposed to play their final year at Nassau Coliseum this coming regular season before UBS Arena opens in 2021.

That remains the hope of Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke and the Islanders. That plan has been put into question a bit after Onexim Sports and Entertainment closed the Coliseum down in June and then Nassau County came to an agreement with Nick Mastroianni II to take over the lease last month.

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Oak View Group recently put in a proposal to downsize the Nassau Coliseum after the Islanders move to UBS Arena.

“I hope Nassau works out. That’s where the Islanders should play their games,” Leiweke told amNewYork Metro’s Joe Pantorno during a wide-ranging interview. “At the end of the day, we don’t want to be in a position where Nassau Coliseum’s future use is pitted directly against UBS Arena. It’s a billion-dollar private investment, so hopefully, there’s a way where we can find a solution for everyone and I’m going to leave it at that.”

The $1.5 billion UBS Arena project includes a new building for the Islanders, a retail district, a hotel and a newly constructed LIRR station. NYI Hockey Now was invited down to the Preview Club in Manhattan on Monday and spoke with Leiweke and Islanders owner Jon Ledecky about what the new project will look like.

On Tuesday, Newsday reported that the Islanders ownership had joined Oak View Group in its bid to downsize the Nassau Coliseum into a music-focused venue once the team played out their final year in 2020-21.

Should Oak View Group’s plan be picked by Mastroianni, it would be the third Islanders-related venue they operate. They will run UBS Arena once it opens and they currently run operations at Webster Bank Arena, home of the Islanders AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

Oak View Group took over operations of the Connecticut arena in 2019.

“Jon and Scott have been kind enough to back Lou on getting the OVG team in there, too,” Leiweke said in the same amMetro New York interview. “So we have the synergy of our management team at UBS Arena and we put together I think the best management team for an arena I’ve ever seen. They’re also overseeing Bridgeport and they’re working on a long-term vision there. If something happened at Nassau, they’d also be the same team that oversees that.

“We’re very fortunate that we have some of the best executives in the business.”

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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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