Beyond the history and tradition of the Islanders move from Nassau County to Brooklyn is the day-to-day business machinations by the suits charged with taking an established team and moving it to a still relatively new locale.
The Barclays team took over the Islanders PR a while ago, and is now fully in charge of everything that isn't hockey (save for a few office types back in Nassau). Their job has been figuring out how to move a 43-year-old team and its fans to a new borough and attract new fans to that same old team.
A story by Alex Silverman published yesterday at Sports Business Daily ($) looks at some of the team's marketing strategies, from billboards to youth outreach, and some of the thinking that went on behind them.
"I think that as the season progresses, you're going to be seeing a little bit more of the Brooklyn coolness infused into the brand," said Barclays Center CMO Elisa Padilla. "But again, we're being very respectful and we want to pay homage to the Islanders' history."
We've known for a while that the new black alternate uniforms were once part of a larger re-branding effort by Nets and Barclays CEO Brett Yormark (Note: I've typed that phrase so many times over the past two years that I think I'm just going to shorten it to NABCCEOBY from now on. Or maybe just "Yormark.") that was scuttled after he considered feedback from fans.
Turns out Yormark also went to another source for ideas on how to bring the team to Brooklyn: some old Islanders fan named Gary.
Yormark revealed he has conferred with the NHL commissioner regarding a game presentation style that will jibe with existing fans' expectations. "We can mix a little bit of the old with the new," Yormark said. "But Gary Bettman was very clear to say to me, ‘Brett, we're not the NBA.' So we leaned on him and his staff to make sure they guide us the right way in what the fans' expectations are."
"The NBA is very much also about entertainment," Yormark added. "The hockey fans are a little bit more of a traditional fan, and hockey is what they're coming out to see every night. We just need to be mindful of the balance. Obviously if that comes from the commissioner, I'm going to pay close attention to it."
The article also mentions some outdoor skating sessions to get the kids of Brooklyn into the sport, with Islanders alumni expected to participate in the clinics. It will be interesting to see how the legends are received away from the team's traditional base, where anyone who was on the team between 1979 and 1984 probably hasn't had to buy a meal or a beer in almost 40 years.
As for inside the arena, Barclays has sold 80 percent of its suites, with the rest being left for game day rentals. The arena has also brought in a raft of new sponsors, including Xerox, Jet Blue, American Express and Honda, who had been a Nets sponsor. Sorry, Compression Socks and Dial-A-Bug.
Another new sponsor is the Las Vegas Tourism Board, which is a slightly ironic twist for those of us that endured relocation rumors for a couple of decades.
The season is only one exhibition game old so far, so how this all turns out is anyone's guess. Things could change for the better or for the worse. But they will change. And we have a unique opportunity to watch our team grow in real time.
Not everything is going to go smoothly, but as Brian Schiazza put it in a nice write-up from last night's preseason game, we all - fans, suits, fans that don't know they're going to be fans - want the same thing: a team that's ours and that speaks to us.
If this Brooklyn shift is all going to work, it's really on the play of the team and the devotion of the fans equally. Who knows how the Isles will draw at the building in mixing old fans who can make it, and newer fans. I talked to a pair of what everyone would consider to be typical hipsters who seemed to be there just to check things out. They had no idea what the history of the team is, nor the adjustments that the fans are making to having this team here. They didn't even mind the obstructed views. But if they are ready to become fans and learn, the more, the merrier, right?
One minute, you're crawling and the next - boom - baby steps.