For an organization that has spent the better part of the past two decades being unable to get out of its own way, the New York Islanders did all the right things when it came to securing their long-term future. They bided their time, made the right business and political alliances and, probably most importantly, did not stick out their hand for public money on the threat of leaving before securing the Belmont site for their new $1-billion arena project.
Man, you’d almost think that owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin knew what they were doing. And that’s exactly what the case was. In these things it always, always starts at the top and it was no coincidence that these guys were the ones to get it done. Bringing in the Oak View Group was a big one because the company had the right connections to get the right people on board for the project. And through the process the Islanders said and did all the right things, thereby extricating themselves from a situation that sometimes looked untenable.
And rather than moving, the Islanders are instead coming home, since Belmont is about 10 minutes from the old Nassau Coliseum where they won four Stanley Cups in the 1980s.
Now let’s contrast that approach with two other teams that are looking for new arenas – the Calgary Flames and the Ottawa Senators. While the Islanders took a page out of the book of diplomacy, the Flames and Senators have decided to rip right out of the oldest, most worn-out ownership playbook in existence. And when compared to the Islanders, they’re both looking a little silly at the moment.
The Flames, who are owned by a group of six men, two of whom each have net worths in excess of $2 billion, are currently in an ugly, ugly battle with the City of Calgary over how much public money will go to their new monument to the rich. The Flames even went so far as to try to sway voters in the mayoral race and ultimately lost that gambit when Naheed Nenshi was re-elected. Since then there has been a lot of sniping and ominous messages about picking up and leaving. The Flames have actually been rather pathetic about the whole thing, talking publicly about how they needed to rely on revenue sharing last season and how wonderful they are in helping out local charities. (Typically when a team donates money, it comes from its charitable foundation, not from the team itself.)
What might even be worse is how the Senators, and specifically their owner Eugene Melnyk, have conducted themselves as of late. Last weekend during what should have been a celebration of the game and the NHL at the NHL 100 Classic, Melnyk thought it would be a good time to hold a gun to his team’s fans and the decision-makers in Ottawa. “If it doesn’t look good here,” Melnyk said of the Senators’ future, “it could look very, very nice somewhere else.”
Then he went on to repudiate his own fan base, admonishing it for choosing not to make the drive to the suburbs to pay top price for tickets. Then he talked about slashing player costs, because apparently everything else has been cut to the bone, and how it would be a “disaster” if the Senators didn’t get approved for the downtown playpen they’ve coveted for some time now.
This is not to say that the Islanders and their owners haven’t ever been involved in their own gamesmanship. This is business and it’s all part of the game. Pretty tough to imagine that negotiations between the Islanders and the Barclays Center didn’t get ugly. In fact, at one point when Barclays CEO Brett Yormark said the economics of the deal, which saw Barclays pay the Islanders in excess of $50 million a year, didn’t work, Ledecky replied by saying, “I guess he’s saying the people on their side didn’t make a good deal.” But since Ledecky and Malkin took over majority ownership of the Islanders almost two years ago, there hasn’t been a lot of public rhetoric coming from them. And their situation was much, much more dire than anything the Flames or Senators face.
So if the Islanders can do without public money, why can’t the Flames and Senators? The Islanders have been a financial and on-ice mess for years and if anyone could have used the ‘cry poor card’ it was them.
Above all, the Islanders did this using a velvet glove instead of a sledgehammer. We can’t really say we’ve said this very often lately, but perhaps it’s time for the Flames and the Senators to take some advice: “Be like the Islanders.”
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