To Be Successful in Brooklyn, the Islanders Will Have to Draw From Everywhere

Kevin Schultz

The Nets and the Barclays Center have certainly been a success since moving to Brooklyn. Last night, the arena hosted the MTV Video Music Awards, putting it square in the pop culture spotlight, to cap off what has been a successful rookie year for the top grossing arena in the United States.

The arena’s basketball team has done well, too. It’s created a buzz in New York City that the New Jersey Nets could have only dreamed about and the attendance numbers are good, too, playing at 94 percent capacity for 41 home games, according to ESPN.

So what can we learn about the Islanders impending move to Brooklyn from all of this?

According to a transportation study conducted earlier this year by Sam Schwartz Engineering for Forest City Ratner, it seems as though Barclays is going to have two options to make the Islanders a success; either figure out how to sell hockey to Brooklyn and/or convince Long Islanders to make the trip to Atlantic Avenue.

The purpose of the study was to analyze how people are getting to and from the Barclays Center for events and evaluate how successful their marketing push to keep people from taking their cars to the arena is.

To achieve the objectives specified above [of reducing the number of people using cars to get to the arena], a [transportation demand management] plan… has been in place for arena events since the venue opened on September 28, 2012. The TDM program includes a focus on marketing the robust transit service at the arena and strongly communicating the message that there is limited parking in the area. In addition, a host of other measures were implemented to minimize the number of vehicles traveling to the arena.

The short version of the story is that the study analyzed the attendees of eight Nets games in January and February as well as five family shows and concerts. We’ll focus on the Nets and not the concerts, since they’re more comparable to the Islanders as a sports franchise playing 41 home dates and not a one-off event.

netsThe study showed that, not surprisingly, between 55-68 percent of attendees at the Nets games left from Manhattan or Brooklyn to get to the game. The numbers of Long Islanders heading to the games were quite small comparatively.

Only 8.3 percent of attendees came from Nassau or Suffolk on weekdays and that number rose to 12.6 percent on weekends. Overall, only between 6-9 percent of attendees used the LIRR to get to the game (which represents roughly 1,300 people on average). Those are, seemingly, some small numbers.

So what does this mean for the Islanders when they head to the Barclays Center? It really depends on how the Barlays brain-trust wants to play it.

Since the move from New Jersey was announced, the Nets have focused all of their marketing on Brooklyn. That showed in the teams horrendous attendance (worst in the NBA, but to be fair the team was awful) and success of re-branding (selling ten times the normal amount of merch). As you can see from the chart, the Nets still do attract a small minority of fans (8-9 percent) from New Jersey, which is probably a bit of a trek since there is no direct mass transit service.

Contrary to how the Nets handled leaving New Jersey, the Islanders are obviously not throwing all of their eggs into one basket. There is still the possibility of six games per year at a remodeled Coliseum and owner Charles Wang has said that there won’t be logo or uniform changes coming (promise not applicable to the third jersey, most likely). I’ve also been told previously that the team wants to give Nassau “an appropriate farewell.”

Brooklyn New Arena BasketballBut that leaves the Barclays Center with a project ahead of them, one I’m sure they’re feverishly working on. Do they make the Islanders a Brooklyn brand or try to attract as many Long Islanders westward as possible? Or does the answer lie somewhere in the middle, as a sort of best of both worlds?

With such a small portion of the Nets attendance coming from Long Island, you would have to believe the numbers for the Islanders will be a bigger draw even if there were to be no specific marketing towards the area. Even though the Nets played on Long Island decades ago, their fanbase didn’t have staying power in most people’s minds. The move from Nassau to Brooklyn being fairly close, the numbers from Nassau and Suffolk heading to Brooklyn for the Islanders would likely be higher than the 8-12% that the Nets are getting from the area. But will it be enough to help make the team a Nets-like success?

One thing is clear from the numbers on the Nets, the Barclays Center is going to have to strongly recruit fans from Nassau and Suffolk. The Islanders, with a Long Island fanbase, will surely draw better than the Nets, as Long Island will have no issues beating my rough estimate of 1,300 fans on the LIRR per game. But even if they double, or triple, or quadruple that number, is it enough? Even if 7,000 fans are packing the LIRR each night, almost 5.5x that 1,300 estimate, you still have to convince another 7,000 or so to come from Brooklyn and other areas.

For me, the answer is that Barclays needs to draw a little more from Long Island and make those fans happy but they also can’t completely ignore New York City and it’s 8 million-plus inhabitants.

Drawing more from the passionate Long Island fanbase means there’s less of a need to attract new, potentially short-term fans who may or may not be truly interested in hockey (by making jersey changes, per se, that anger the die-hards). There’s also the scenario that the Long Islanders who commute out of Penn Station may find making it to Brooklyn on a weeknight more convenient, and you tap in more to the portion of the fan base that already comes out to Nassau from the city (yes, they’re out there, I’ve spoken to them).

But how all these numbers work out and how everything plays out is really anyone’s guess. For the Barclays Center and the Islanders, they’re going to have to have a good guess and plan accordingly, as their success depends upon it.


Thanks to NetsDaily for tipping us to the transit study.