“We are encouraging [the Islanders] to have a better team”: A Brief History of the Isles TV Contract

Kevin Schultz

Editorial note: This was meant to be posted earlier in the week, but we got sidetracked after that 7-0 game.

As wacky and upsetting as Saturday night’s preemption of the Islanders-Devils game was, there was actually a time when you might have missed the game altogether. Way back when, in 1998 to be exact, there was actually a time when the Islanders wouldn’t show up on the regional sports package that you paid for. Via the NYT archive:

Cablevision-run F.S.N.Y. refuses to carry Islanders games when they conflict with Devils games. Thus, viewers have seen only the Islanders-Boston telecast, not the games against Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and St. Louis.

If you’re curious about the terms of the Islanders’ cable contract after we discussed Saturday night’s preemption, check out this NYT story from 1999 regarding the re-negotiation of the contract:

“…It is one of the largest local television contracts in major league sports. The cable contract was so valuable that it cost more than the team itself — $100 million for the contract and $95 million for the team — when Howard and Edward Milstein and Steven Gluckstern became the owners for $195 million last year.

Yet the certainty of receiving FSNY’s cash was imperiled three years ago. At the time [1982], Cablevision inserted a clause into the first draft of a renegotiated contract that would have let it declare the deal breached if the Islanders’ record and player investment did not add up to an ”entertaining product.”

The team’s performance [in the late 1990s] provided no leverage for the Islanders to resist the demand. But it owned another form of leverage that caused the provision to disappear from the final version of the contract. The talks occurred as Cablevision merged FSNY (then SportsChannel) into the MSG Network. An option for Islander payments to shift from a flat fee to 18 1/2 percent of FSNY revenues was coming in 2001.

Cablevision recoiled at the possibility of paying the Islanders 18 1/2 percent of total FSNY-MSG revenues. In the talks, the team got an extension through the 2030-31 season, which features yearly payments rising from $14.8 million next season and $17.5 million in 2000-1 to $36 million in the final year, and the possibility of lousy performances causing a breach disappeared from the final contract…”

According to Nets Daily, that yearly payout is currently estimated at $20 million.

Oh, and one more quote from the NYT:

Dolan added: ”We are contractually committed to the Islanders and we’re not looking to escape our contract. We are encouraging them to have a better team.”