2011 New York Islanders: Charles Wang's Case To Reclaim Islanders Country

Michael WillhoftContributor IIIJuly 28, 2011

Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Nassau Veterans Memorial ColiseumChristopher Pasatieri/Getty Images

The New York Islanders play their home games in the woefully outdated Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, NY. The land surrounding the arena is available for development. Construction of a new arena will stimulate economic growth in Nassau County.

These are the facts, and they are undisputed.

In the debate for the construction of a new Nassau Coliseum, there are two sides: those in favor of approving the $400 million bond that will green-light the project, and those against breaking ground on the new sports complex because of concerns over the county’s current massive debt.

Simplified, the two sides are as follows: those who are right (those in favor), and those who are wrong (those against).

Leading the charge for the project’s approval are much-maligned New York Islanders team owner Charles Wang and Nassau County executive Edward Mangano.

In support of the arena’s construction, Wang and Mangano cite the fact that the bond will be covered by the revenue generated by the new Coliseum and will not cost the Nassau Country taxpayers a single cent in the long run. The initial cost to the residents of the county is projected to be $47 per year, which will be reimbursed once the Islanders begin playing in their new building.

Let me make this clear: the bond will pay for itself.

The revenue generated by the new arena will not be limited to the number of Islanders tickets sold. The venue will serve as a destination for concerts, conventions and sporting events, all of which will defray the cost of construction. In addition, thousands of jobs will be created in the process, thereby stimulating the economy of the surrounding towns and the county as a whole.

The current Nassau Coliseum is, by today’s standards, ancient. Narrow, outdated concourses, a weathered façade and a lack of the state-of-the-art technology so prevalent in modern arenas all combine to create an atmosphere of decay that permeates the building. The current aura (if it can be called that) of the Coliseum is unbefitting of a formerly dynastic franchise that won four Stanley Cups in a row and a record 19 consecutive playoff series in the early 1980s.

Not having been around for the golden years of the Islanders, I have to rely on stories from my father, who still tells me about the days when he and his brothers would sneak into the Coliseum to see the games because tickets had been sold out for weeks.

Today, there is considerably less of a need to sneak into an Islanders home game, mostly because the scalpers outside the arena are selling their tickets at less than face value.

But without a new arena to boost interest in the Islanders brand, those tickets will soon become collector’s items.

Wang has sunk plenty of his own money into the team—more than $200 million—in an attempt to keep the Islanders in town. With attendance dropping and the Coliseum literally crumbling around him, Wang’s campaign for a new arena is the last hope if the Islanders are to remain on Long Island.

The Islanders’ current lease at the Coliseum runs through 2015, but a new arena would guarantee that the team remains in Uniondale through 2045, which Wang fully favors.

The opposition has portrayed Wang as a fat-cat billionaire seeking to exploit the county’s taxpayers by leveraging their hard-earned dollars to finance his new pet project.

What they fail to recognize is that without an owner like Wang, the Islanders would have become a ward of the NHL long ago. And with commissioner Gary Bettman controlling the fate of the team, that likely would have resulted in the Islanders’ relocation to Quebec or Kansas City.

Wang may have whiffed on some contracts during his tenure as team owner (read: Alexei Yashin, Rick DiPietro), but it’s not for his lack of commitment that the Islanders have been on the brink of closing up shop on Long Island. Most owners would have identified a bad investment and cut their losses, moving the team into a modern arena in a new city. Wang, however, refuses to give up on his team.

More importantly, he refuses to give up on Nassau County.