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Monday Musing: Would the Brooklyn Islanders Thing Work?

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That must be a reference to the second dynasty.
That must be a reference to the second dynasty.

Before you get too far into this post, please know that it's obviously a "cart before the horse" discussion. All the Islanders have is three seasons left on the Nassau lease and a preseason game that might even be jeopardized by labor stalemate in a Brooklyn arena they don't own and isn't built designed for hockey. But with the summer free agency scene frozen by the whole labor standoff thing, we're going to be getting into some rampant speculation here and there.

Today that speculation is about Brooklyn: On a purely demographic and intra-metro hockey war level ... could it work?

Obvious obstacles are the limited seating capacity for hockey and the fact the Islanders would somehow have to be tenants (unlike the NBA Nets, who own the new arena and have planned the last few years around filling it). A recent post at Nets blog Nets Daily observes that, with the arena nearing completion, the battle for the city hearts and minds of NBA fans is underway.

Adding juice to the environment, in NBA terms, is how the New York Knicks routinely abuse their fanbase, meaning they're perhaps ripe for some bleeding of market share. This could once be said about their Garden brethren Rangers, too, but recently the Rangers -- while continuing to buy whatever expensive shiny thing comes for sale -- at least hold on to their prospects and try to go about building a team in a semi-reasonable way.

I don't know a thing about NBA basketball and don't have a handle on the appetite for hockey in Brooklyn (insert trendy hipster reference of choice here), so I'm polling for opinions here. The NetsDaily post notes the NYT spread the other day about how the Nets marketing is on in full force around Brooklyn, to capture that audience and own that association.

Granted that -- in addition to us being miles and steps away from truly seeing regular season hockey in Brooklyn -- the Nets have yet to play a singe game in the borough ... would a smart Islanders identity campaign be possible and effective if they end up Brooklyn-bound in 2015?

Basketball has an easy, gritty urban appeal. Hockey, in contrast, is still a bit foreign and inaccessible; outside of Canada and northern U.S. states, it lacks organic playground roots. It's hard to imagine the shots of people in Nets gear in that photo spread being replaced by people in Rangers gear, much less Islanders gear.

On the other hand, hockey as a sport continues to grow -- despite the best efforts of its leaders to shoot itself in the foot. If there's a lockout this year, presumably damage will be mitigated again by 2015. So looking at the Brooklyn hypothetical, I see:

  • A building that's not as big (capacity-wise, for hockey) as the Coliseum, but still fits more than the Islanders' average attendance the last few seasons.
  • A building that's not built er, presently designed for hockey and would have a quiet end where few sit -- and yet could be one of the few buildings in the league with actual individual "character," now that all teams have gone to plush-and-glass luxury box-by-numbers monstrosities. Picture the Islanders attacking the crowded end twice, like "the Kop" end in English football most often associated with Liverpool F.C.
  • A building that, despite its flaws (for hockey) is at least better accessible by mass transit, which is more conducive to spur-of-the-moment decisions to go have a beer and check out a game.
  • A team that, in all likelihood, should be on the upswing with plenty of good players hitting their prime in 2015.
  • A winter sport that, rather than complement winter basketball, kind of competes with it and will definitely create competition for arena dates.
  • An unknown question of how Charles Wang is supposed to make money in a building he can only rent?
  • A sport that ... I don't know, does it play in Brooklyn? Seriously, does it?

I don't know these answers. You don't either but you probably have strong opinions.

Can you picture John Tavares ads in blue-and-orange saying "Hello Brooklyn" on bus stops and billboards around the borough, the way Joe Johnson and company are featured in this late-summer branding campaign? Could it catch on and resonate? Could it compensate for the volume, association, and community outreach that's lost if the Isles have to leave their original home?