With all the talk about the end of Nassau Coliseum, it sort of slipped by quietly in the news that the Izod Center is closing. Outside of Devils fans, it seems like fans of the Izod Center were more likely to be those who enjoyed the irony in its old name, the Brendan Byrne Arena. Brendan Byrne was the governor of New Jersey, and decided to name the arena after himself. In the same way, it was just a coincidence when the Democratic former governor's name came down while a Republican was in office.
For me though, it was both the first place I saw a hockey game live (Devils vs. Sabres with Dominik Hasek stealing the show) and an Islanders game (Devils vs. Islanders, pre-season game). My dad, who got lost constantly on his way to Shea Stadium and refused to ever go to a football game because of traffic, could never imagine going out to the Coliseum on Long Island.
That got me to thinking though: Every sports team that I grew up with has a new place to play. The Jets and Giants have moved on to MetLife Stadium. The Mets have gone from Shea Stadium to Citi Field. The Yankees have the newest "Yankee Stadium." The Islanders and Nets are now in Barclays Center. Even MSG isn't the same old MSG for the Knicks and Smurfs, and even now they have an 8-year countdown till they could be forced to move.
Around the NHL, Edmonton's formerly Northlands Coliseum and Detroit's Joe Louis Arena will soon follow Nassau to the grave.
Trimming Down while Pricing Up
What hasn't been mentioned though, is that most of those new arenas and stadiums don't give much of an upgrade on capacity. The Mets and Yankees both cut over 5,000 seats (Shea had 15,000 more seats) moving to their new stadiums. Met Life Stadium only added 2,000 seats more than Giants Stadium. The Prudential Center and Barclays Center both have less seating than the Izod Center and Nassau Coliseum, respectively. The Coliseum already had one of the smallest capacities in the NHL.
The removal of seats isn't anything new. The last Mets game I was at had ushers guarding the lowest part of the upper deck, since they didn't sell any tickets for that section. They would actually kick people out of those seats during the game. NFL teams have been removing seating (or covering sections with tarps) for years. Most infamously the Washington Redskins, who have one of the longest waiting lists for season tickets, have gone from 91,000 capacity to 75,000. That's fewer seats than what FedEx Field opened with.
The owners claim that they can't compete with high definition TV and people staying at home to be comfortable watching the game. I've never once been at a game and heard someone say, "This would have been so much better if I had stayed home," even during the worst of the Milbury years. Fans like getting together and watching the game live, whether the team is good or bad.
It's not just bad teams or bad games which are struggling with attendance. It sounds amazing, but last year the Green Bay Packers struggled mightily to sell out a playoff game at Lambeau Field. Two other playoff games that weekend struggled to sell out and keep from being blacked out in their local market. At the same time, participation in youth football is dropping too.
Most teams quite simply refuse to respond to the economic struggles that a lot of people are facing today. The NHL Fan cost index put the average day at a game at around $363 dollars back in October of 2014. Quite simply there are just better ways to spend money entertaining a family. I know growing up that my family wouldn't have spent $300-plus to go to a game that only I enjoyed.
We've had a lot of discussions on this site about how people have become Islanders fans. A lot of them consisting of going to games with family when they were younger. The amount of money we've spent on this team since then makes those tickets look like a drop in the buck. But instead of looking to the future and seeing cheaper tickets as a way of getting more fans in the long run, owners continue pushing to squeeze every penny out of fans at the gate.
A combination of trying to squeeze every last dime from every revenue stream, along with a struggling middle class is a dangerous combination for big sports today. They can come up with all the excuses they want, but making it exorbitantly more expensive to see games live is stopping a lot of people from going. This is killing off possible future fans of a team in exchange for money now, and we're already starting to see some of the repercussions in struggling attendance.
Owners can also point to TV contracts which have pumping a ton of money into the leagues and teams because they are "DVR-safe" -- i.e., in contrast to other TV programming, people are less likely to DVR live sports, and thus dodge the commercials and splinter the audience.
But how long will this continue? In the future either sports will have fewer viewers because of how many have been turned off by or priced out by them, or networks will discover a new way to get around people using DVRs. If the latter happens, these TV networks will find a way out of these exorbitant deals. Then what will the answer be?
The closing of Nassau Coliseum and other arenas like it is the sign of the end of a generation. It was a generation in which teams looked to squeeze as many fans as possible into the seats. A generation before so many of those seats and sightlines were replaced by lucrative club seats and luxury boxes bankrolled by corporations rather than individual fans. It was a time when live games gave fans a chance to connect on a level they couldn't via TV. When owners knew we weren't merely paying for the privilege of seeing a team, but the privilege of being a part of the team. It seems that has been forgotten by today's owners and their gaudy new megastructures, leaving their common fans out in the cold.