Just before tickets went on sale for the Islanders’ pre-season game in Brooklyn last week, I quickly posted a seating chart of the Barclays Center’s setup for hockey via the Ticketmaster website (at right, click to enlarge). The setup looked promising, showing available seating in the lower and upper bowls on the side where the rink will displace a lot of the lower bowl seating.
Leading up to this, the thinking was that the seating areas on that side would not have a good view of the near net, which would make those seats pretty undesirable. All of that guesswork was given life because the arena’s planners went back and forth on whether or not to design it to fit hockey. As you can see, they decided against fitting the arena for hockey. That’s a decision that may come back to bite them given the state of affairs between Nassau County and the Islanders — cold, at best — as the team heads towards a 2015 end to their lease and, potentially, greener pastures elsewhere. But I digress.
What’s interesting to note — and I know this has been out there for a few days — is that I have to update you on a presumably more accurate version of the seating chart for hockey at the Barclays. Actually it’s not presumed to be more accurate, it is accurate because it’s on the Barclays’ own website.
(Sidenote: Notice on that page linked above how even though the game is referred to as “Islanders vs. Devils” there are no Devils logos only a big, honking Islanders logo. Hmmm…)
As you can see, this image differs drastically from the one on the Ticketmaster website. In this version there is no available seating on the upper tier in sections 201, 202, 230 and 231. The two sections on either side of those sections are also priced at the lowest rate, $14.50, and referred to as “limited view”. There is also no lower bowl seating whatsoever in one defensive zone. If you’ve ever been to the Coliseum for an event and seen sections in the 100s pushed back, that’s the idea in part of the lower bowl.
By the looks of it the seating area of the modified arena isn’t atrocious, but it’s a dramatic shift from what we saw from Ticketmaster last week. It will sort of be like a concert where the stage is in one end of the arena, with no one sitting behind or to the sides of the performers. Visually this is going to be a weird effect but it will have no bearing on the capacity of the arena. A spokesman for the Nets was adamant that the arena would hold 14,500 for hockey when we spoke via email earlier in the year. Whether this modified seating arrangement would also affect the availability or sight lines of suites in the arena is unconfirmed (but there are 130 of them, so yeah, I would imagine some of them would be affected).
So what does this do to the viability of the arena for hockey? If you can get past the weird setup, not a whole lot has changed. The capacity is going to be the same and the NHL has no mandate for minimum capacity. There will still be a ton of suites. Even if the sight lines for a third of them unusable, that still leaves 85(!) suites. Compare that to 32 at the Coliseum.
The concern — and remember we’re getting really ahead of ourselves in the first place by assuming the Islanders are even going to Brooklyn — is whether or not this team could be profitable at the Barclays. With a reduced capacity and closer proximity to a larger population, that should drive ticket prices up no matter how good or bad the team is (for comparison, ask your Ranger fan friends how much they pay at the Garden. They won’t be happy to discuss it). So there will be plenty of money to be made if people decide they want to go to the games.
In terms of determining if people would actually want to go the most important question is; will the team be any good? That’s going to determine, more than anything else, how viable any franchise would be. If Islander fans in Nassau are willing to put up with traffic, an outdated arena, and $10 parking to see a sub par team, imagine how many would take the train to the shiny new arena if the team was good. And people who work in the city would actually be able to make it to the arena in time for a 7pm start. So in my opinion yes, the Islanders in Brooklyn is an easily viable experiment if the team is able to win games consistently.