In an interview with Sports Illustrated published today, Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark spoke about a few topics with writer Jeremy Fuchs, including the recent marketing of the Islanders and home attendance, which has been steadily climbing.
Much of what Yormark says isn't too revelatory ("Attendance since the first nine games is up 23%. Revenue since the first game is up 10% and we're seeing it grow" is nice to see), but a couple of items at the end stuck out as particularly noteworthy.
One was something that we've seen recently, in which players who are hurt or scratched spend time at games among the fans. This is a calculated move by the team to foster some good will according to Yormark.
For us, it's just about humanizing the players, getting them into the community. We're working with GM Garth Snow in making the players accessible. And it's not just in the community. It's during game nights. We're starting to use players who are scratched to meet with fans, walk the concourse, and engage throughout the evening. Making some type of connectivity from player to fan.
So if Brian Strait just happens to pop by the Coors Light Party Deck, it's not because he read the mean things you wrote on the internet about him (although he might have). As far as marketing initiatives go, this is kinda cool.
The second thing that stuck out wasn't cool. It's understandable and disappointing, but certainly not cool.
Speaking about Barclays Center's unusual and much-maligned obstructed seats, Yormark threw some cold water on a dream some may have had (I know I did).
JF: I have to ask about the obstructed view seats. There's been a lot of criticism. How much have you heard from fans and is there any movement to change it?
BY: Our seating capacity is over 15,700. Within that capacity there's a lot of great seats. Do we have some obstructed seats? Yes we do. Are fans aware of those obstructed seats before they purchase them? Yes they are. There's really nothing we're going to do from a capital improvement standpoint. You can watch the game on your mobile device. The game is on the scoreboard. There are many ways to view the game if you're in one of those obstructed seats. We aren't going to be able to change the seats in the building. That is what it is. But there are certainly other ways we can enhance the experience.
I'm disappointed that the seats won't be altered because they will most likely prevent the Islanders from hosting something special in the near future - an NHL All Star Game.
(Also, memo to Brett Yormark: No one in their right mind is going to an arena to watch a hockey game on their phone. Erase that bullet point from your script, please)
"Not Built for Hockey"
The phrase "Not Built for Hockey" might as well be emblazoned on Barclays Center's green roof. It was rushed into construction by original owner Bruce Ratner in order to hit some legal deadlines, hampering the arena's ability to be as balanced for hockey as it is for basketball, concerts, etc.
The bad word of mouth about the seating arrangement started before the Islanders even announced their plans to move there. A pair of KHL games as well as an Islanders-Devils preseason game (all cancelled for various reasons) were the first hockey games scheduled at the arena in 2012, and one look at the seating chart made it clear that the audience would be sitting in a horseshoe pattern around the ice. When the Islanders finally announced their move in October of 2012, everyone of relevance insisted that the arena would have 15,000-plus seats, some of which would be obstructed, but no horseshoe.
Fast forward to today. If you follow on social media any fans of teams visiting the Islanders, you'll likely hear a lot of very similar complaints and questions: "What is this?," "Why is that like that?," "Is that a car?," and "How is this an NHL arena?" are a few of the more common ones. And nearly every out-of-town writer has made an immediate beeline to section 201 just take pictures from the "worst seats in the house." There are enough photos from that spot to decorate a wing at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Now, imagine 15,000 of those fans and writers descending on Brooklyn after flying hundreds of miles and paying hundreds of dollars for seats to watch one guy from their team break tiny targets in a net or skate with rivals in an exhibition game. It's a tough sell.
The seating arrangement isn't a big deal on a Tuesday night against Minnesota, and once the Islanders make the playoffs rabid fans will probably just be happy to have a seat in the building. But for a showcase event like an All Star Game, when the league expects a host city to pull out all the stops and deluge thousands of tourists with the best that city has to offer, Barclays just won't cut it.
Could the NHL still try? Sure. Fortunately I'm not in charge of deciding which cities get All Star Games. And if we've learned anything from this year's game in Nashville, it's that betting on the NHL being out of touch is probably a safe play. Still, the scenario seems unlikely.
My personal feelings about Barclays Center haven't changed during the course of this season. I'm happy the team is out of the political Sarlaac Pit of Nassau, and in an arena that has mass transportation and a plan to actually pay the Islanders for playing there instead of the other way around. In my handful of games this season, I've been smart when buying tickets and used Barclays Center's website to get a view from my seats before buying them (as it was intended). I assume more people are getting used to it as the games go on.
But if you were hoping a new building would mean an opportunity for the Islanders to host their first All Star Game since 1983 (and New York's first since the game was at Madison Square Garden in 1994), it's probably not gonna happen.
On the Brightside
An NHL Draft, on the other hand, would be ideal. Barclays Center has already hosted three NBA Drafts and with a big stage at one end, the messy seats won't matter anyway. Yormark and company could still get to show off Brooklyn and the fancy new player area, while the team gets to revel in its history and future (not the mention that many bars around the arena would probably make a killing).
Let's get on that, Gary. Help your old team out.