A new sports arena isn’t always a recipe for an uptick in a team’s attendance. At least that’s the early takeaway for the New York Islanders, who left Nassau Coliseum in Long Island after 43 years,when they moved to Barclays Center, the home of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets, to start the 2015-2016 season.
While the Islanders sold out their season opener (15,795) against the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks, the subsequent home games failed to come close to being sellouts. The second home game of the season, a Columbus Day matinee against the Winnipeg Jets, drew just 11,183 fans, and attendance for games against the Nashville Predators (10,542) and San Jose Sharks (11,577) was about the same.
There was an uptick against the Boston Bruins (13,113) on a Friday night, but some of that could be attributed to a boost from the Bruins fans in attendance.
While it’s still a small sample size, the figures could be concerning given what the Islanders drew last season at the Coliseum. After the first five home games of the 2014-15 season, the Islanders averaged 13,108, which was about 5 percent higher than the Islanders average attendance at Barclays (12,442), which ranks last in the NHL.
In terms of attendance compared to capacity, the Islanders rank No. 29, behind only the New Jersey Devils, with 78.7 percent of the arena filled. Of the 30 NHL teams, 24 have averaged a 90 percent filled arena.
Last season, the Islanders averaged 15,334 in attendance for home games, filling 94.8 percent of the 16,170 capacity, and coming in at No. 23 in the league. Thirteen teams across the league sold out each game last season, while the Islanders sold out 27 of 41 games.
It's not completely clear as to why the Islanders have struggled at the turnstiles thus far. There is a large portion of Long Island natives in the Manhattan area, and Barclays Center is very accessible by multiple subway lines and the Long Island Rail Road.
Fans may not have sunk their teeth into the early NHL season in a busy sports month in the New York area. The venue change of nearly 30 miles also impacts fans who may consider staying home rather than making the long drive during traffic hours.
Two longtime Islanders fans, both donning John Tavares jerseys, didn't feel satisfied with the team's home in Friday's game against the Bruins. They griped the Coliseum did a better job of compacting the noise, providing a better hockey atmosphere, and weren't keen on the long drive from Nassau County.
"I don't even like the elevators," joked one Islanders fan, who asked to not be identified.
"Coliseum was better, by far," said the other. "You were closer to the ice."
But the move to the glossy Barclays Center, which opened in 2012, was necessary. The aging Coliseum, which was the NHL’s second oldest active arena and at one point had the lowest seating capacity, was riddled with problems that included a leaky roof and allegations of asbestos. It is currently going through a massive, $130-million renovation that will eventually bring the Islanders back but for only six games.
Meanwhile, the on-ice product continues to grow into one of the NHL’s better teams. Last season, the Islanders reached the postseason for only the second time in eight years, and many project them to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2016. Through the first eight games of the young NHL season, the Islanders are third in the Metropolitan Division with a 5-2-1 record.
Bobby Ilich contributed to this report.