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'Smart' jerseys, virtual reality possible at new Islanders home

Islanders alumni, including Clark Gillies, toured the Belmont

Islanders alumni, including Clark Gillies, toured the Belmont Park arena construction site on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. Credit: Shelby Knowles

The Islanders future arena at Belmont Park will be technology forward — replete with virtual reality experiences and “smart” jerseys that change names when entering the building — team co-owner Jon Ledecky said Saturday, as he and dozens of Islanders alumni gathered near the construction site about 2 1/2 weeks after the groundbreaking.

“That’s the future of sports, that’s the future of arenas,” Ledecky said, adding that they’ve tried to anticipate what technology will have become mainstream when the arena is slated to open in 2021. “[Everything] takes advantage of technology. That’s what happens when you’re starting something from scratch, when you’re building a new building. … If you can get that family excited about jumping in the car or going on the railroad, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

Ledecky, alongside Islanders greats Clark Gillies, Bobby Nystrom and Denis Potvin, said season ticket sales had risen as construction got underway. The new arena also hopes to host about 100 concerts a year, he added. Though he wouldn’t comment on ticket prices — a new arena could mean a heftier bill for fans — Ledecky did say that they “want the family of four to show up and not break the bank.”

The entire campus — which will have the 19,000-seat arena, a retail center and a 250-room hotel — is being developed by New York Arena Partners, a group that includes owners of the Islanders, Mets, and the arena development company Oak View Group. The project has been met with pushback, and two lawsuits have been filed to stop construction. However, Ledecky has said that everything was “full steam ahead.” On Saturday, he said the footings — part of the foundation — were going in.

While focused on the arena, Ledecky expects the rest of the campus will use advanced technology, he said. The exterior, however, will be built to blend with the more traditional Belmont Race Track.

“[It will be] a building facade that maintains the [Belmont-style] tradition but inside has everything state of the art,” he said.

The “smart” jerseys, which were unveiled by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver earlier this year, can switch names and numbers on the back while the front doesn't change. The arena will be built for hockey, and Ledecky said there would be “no bad seats,” though fans in the last rows could potentially use virtual reality or augmented reality for an up-close view of the game.

“Because we’re opening in 2021, we’re spending a lot of time, resources and energy to make sure that we’re right there" on the cutting edge, he said.

Additionally, the new arena will look to hire a diverse set of vendors. At least 30% will be minorities or women, Ledecky said, and 6% will be disabled military veterans.

All of that got rave reviews by the Islanders alumni in attendance Saturday. The team now splits its time between NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum and Barclays Center in Brooklyn, which some Long Island fans found difficult to reach. Potvin, who recently retired from 21 years in broadcasting, said the arena could potentially attract more free agents to the team. Gillies, meanwhile, said he thought it would greatly improve the fan experience.

“My daughter lives in West Islip and they haven’t been to many games in Brooklyn,” Gillies said. “They really love going to the Coliseum with the three kids. They’re there in 15 minutes, they’re home in 15 minutes. This is going to be a little bit different, but it will give them more accessibility to the game.”

Nystrom agreed, calling it “really incredible.”

“I was looking out here and saying to myself, how does anyone do a project like this?” he said. “They’ve got a big hole dug out and now they’re there and they’re starting to put in the standings. It’s crazy, but it’s absolutely wonderful.”

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