NYI TAKE POSITIVE STEP WITH PRICE FIXNow must strike a deal to stay in Nassau County

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For Michael Picker, Charles Wang’s top lieutenant going back to the days of Computer Associates, the development of the Lighthouse Project was a primary part of his life’s work. Since the project was hacked, slashed and hit in the head (from behind) by the Town of Hempstead last year, Picker moved back into the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum offices this season and returned his focus to the Islanders.

For his first, major, public move back in the Islanders’ front office, the Senior Vice President should be applauded. In leading the efforts to erase the team’s errors over the last few years in ticket pricing and customer relations towards season ticketholders, Picker has done well by the Islanders and their fans.

To be sure, not every fan is ecstatic about the recent announcement of revamped season ticket prices. It appears the fans least delighted are in sections of the Coliseum – like the bottom half of the center 300s and lower rows of the endzone 300s – that are already sold close to capacity. Some fans believe the price cuts are not deep enough, especially after a season in which the Islanders gave away the store like Crazy Eddie. The Islanders also might want to lose the habit of taking bows for having a good record in the second half of another playoff-less season. The Devils went 20-2-2 over two months without Zach Parise, and you won’t see Lou Lamoriello approving any back-patting in a year they never really sniffed the playoff race. The Islanders haven’t for four years. Keep that bar higher.

But there was plenty of good news, enough to likely get the majority to renew and entice prospective purchasers. Some seats, $90 last year for season subscribers, were lowered to $72. Other lower-bowl tickets dropped approximately $6 per game. The cheapest seat in the house is now even cheaper ($15) and it has been a Coliseum tradition since the days of Chico Resch to move down a few rows if seats are unoccupied. The team is offering better parking prices and options. A first-class gift for subscribers is supposedly in the works.

As always, the advice to the displeased die-hards who still want season tickets is to negotiate. If this is a big part of your life, negotiate hard. You have just about all of the leverage.

When all is said and done – with parking, without it…frankly, I’ve heard from longtime subscribers who don’t even fully comprehend what they’re getting and not getting – there is this. Islanders season ticketholders are paying fewer bucks for their tickets than most of their fellow fans around the league. The on-ice performance needs to catch up, but the cost of Islanders season tickets is cheaper than just about everywhere else. If you sit in Sec. 327 Row E, your seats that were $38 are now $23. The fifth row of the 300s at the NVMC is, cripes, like the 20th row in all the modern-era buildings.

The management of Islanders ticket prices has always been a juggling act. (As you can tell by the team’s latest rainbow-colored seating chart – with more price points than Baskin-Robbins has flavors – the Islanders are still guilty of over-thinking the entire concept). But in this era of secondary ticket markets, and with fewer and fewer reasons to be a season ticketholder for any team other than loving the community shared with fans around you, it is always a tough sell.

The Islanders over-reached badly before the start of this season, now matter how under-reported their price hike was. It was a mistake, even if the team never suffered injuries and started the season on an inspired, prolonged roll. However, fans are smart. The Islanders began offering deep discounts with the home opener. Then the team tanked in the first thirty games of the season. The Islanders, for fear of regular crowds under 5,000 – blinked early and often. The end result was season ticketholders paying big prices sitting next to fans who bought tickets at the box office the day before the game for $20.

Short of an offseason of blockbuster additions while keeping the very impressive young core of the roster, there isn’t much the team could do to make everyone happy in the present tense. But one of the hardest things, even for the most experienced, skilled and confident of executives, is to go to the boss and say, “We must fix this. Until the rebuild completely takes off, we need to get fans in the stands and give our players and coaches the kind of fan support they deserve.” Picker, Paul Lancey and their Uniondale associates did.

With beefed up depth and prospect charts, Garth Snow and the Islanders are closer to getting it right on the ice. The ticket news may not have resulted in universal rejoicing, but it does illustrate a willingness and ability to get it right for their customers. The Lighthouse Project, in its grandiose, expensive glory, will not be constructed as designed, but Picker can get to work on his next assignment. With rises in the standings and attendance, you’d like to think that in the next 2-3 years the Islanders, Nassau and Hempstead will agree on a deal for a new arena (with adjacent revenue generators) to keep the hockey team where it belongs.

Happy with the new pricing? Not? Good enough? Coming back or not coming back anyway? Becoming a new subscriber? Continue to educate me. Share your reactions and discuss this column in Comments.