The voter turnout was weak, but for those that did go to the polls, the message was clear: paying for a new arena for the New York Islanders is not a priority.
The $400 million construction bond measure before Nassau County voters would have built a new arena for the Islanders, and a minor league ballpark. Reports by Newsday were that with 99 percent of the precincts reporting, the measure failed 57 percent against, with 43 percent for. Nassau Co. has some of the highest taxes in the state of New York.
For Isles owner Charles Wang, it was disappointing defeat. The public referendum failing came after his Lighthouse Project – a new arena and mixed use development plan, died after Town of Hempstead resident concerns.
“Right now, I have to tell you, it’s a very emotional time and we’re not going to make any comments on any specific next steps,“ Wang told a group of employees, county officials, and media on Tuesday.
But, for Wang, the message is, and has been clear: if a new arena isn’t in the offing, relocation has to be considered.
There are options for relocation, albeit distant. Kansas City has had an arena in the Sprint Center waiting for a cornerstone tenant and the Islanders have played an exhibition game there prior, albeit sparsely attended. There is currently an NHL to Portland effort that would seek to have a team in the Rose Garden, and Seattle, still stinging after the loss of the NBA Supersonics have made noise about wanting a team. Jim Balsillie sought to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes and relocate them to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, but the Maple Leafs were always fighting behind the scenes to prevent that from happening given Hamilton’s proximity to Toronto.
If Hamilton is off-limits to relocation, then the other aforementioned locations are far west, meaning realignment for the league, should relocation be seriously considered.
You can’t blame voters for wishing to not raise taxes for sports ownership anymore than you can blame Wang for now seriously considering relocation. The Islanders ranked dead last in attendance last season averaging just 11,059 a game.
Already, the Atlanta Thrashers have relocated to Winnepeg and rechristened the Jets. The Coyotes are still a considerable question mark and are life support. With the Islanders, it’s possible that the NHL could see the relocation of not one, but three teams in a short window of time.
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey, as well as a contributor to the Forbes SportsMoney blog. He is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network (select his name in the dropdown provided).
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