Developers of the Nassau Coliseum have shelved plans to have a minor league hockey team play its home games at the renovated arena when it reopens in April, despite agreeing to do so in their contract with Nassau County.
Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano’s 2013 lease with Brooklyn developer Bruce Ratner, approved unanimously by the county legislature, stipulates that an American Hockey League team would play “substantially all of their regular and postseason home games at the Coliseum for a period of at least 15 years.”
However, Nassau officials say they will not enforce the AHL contract clause because it would lock the county into a long-term deal with a minor league franchise, and could complicate a new effort to bring the NHL New York Islanders back to the Coliseum.
Mangano said the county “has reserved its option” with enforcing the AHL contract clause “while the Islanders are considering their options.”
Mangano met with Islanders co-owner Jonathan Ledecky in November to discuss the team’s return. But the Islanders, who play at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, have given no indication they would consider moving back to the Coliseum.
At a 2013 news conference, Ratner said the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Islanders’ top minor league affiliate, would likely relocate to play 40 games per year at the Coliseum.
The AHL team would have been the Coliseum’s anchor tenant, ensuring a steady flow of revenue when the arena was not in use for major concerts. The Sound Tigers have averaged 4,743 fans in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for the past five seasons. This year, they’re down to 3,592.
Ratner’s contract with Nassau contains no estimates for expected revenue from the AHL team, and a spokesman for the league office declined to say what a team’s average annual revenue is.
Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) accused Mangano of “negligence” in not enforcing the AHL lease clause. Abrahams said the lack of a minor league team puts the success of the arena, scheduled to reopen April 5 after a $130 million renovation, in “danger” because of the lack of an anchor tenant.
Abrahams said if Mangano “can’t be responsible enough to bring a minor league hockey team to Nassau when he has it written in a lease, how can we ever expect him” to bring the Islanders home to the Coliseum?
Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) declined to comment.
David Andrews, president of the American Hockey League, said while the Coliseum would be “a pretty good location” for a team, there have been no recent discussions about a move to Nassau. The AHL and the team discussed the issue two years ago, but the Tigers never pursued a move and the topic was dropped, Andrews said. A team would need league approval to relocate, making a move in time for the start of next season out of the question, he said.
“The team that would have easiest access to relocate into Nassau would be the Islanders’ affiliate because of their location,” Andrews said. “But I can certainly, and candidly, tell you that I don’t think we’ve discussed it since the new ownership has taken over.”
An Islanders spokesman declined to comment, as did Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, the entity formed to redevelop the Coliseum.
Ledecky, who owns a controlling interest in the Sound Tigers with Islanders co-owner Scott Malkin, said in July, “We are happy in Bridgeport.” The Sound Tigers’ lease in Bridgeport lasts until 2021.
Brooklyn Nets basketball team owner Mikhail Prokhorov owns Barclays and in 2015 purchased a majority interest in Brooklyn Sports from Ratner.
The Long Island Nets, the minor league affiliate of the Nets, are scheduled to play at the Coliseum beginning this fall. The Coliseum lease makes no mention of a Development League basketball team.
The Islanders and Barclays Center can opt out of their 25-year licensing agreement in January 2018. If the team opts out, it can leave as early as the 2018-19 season. If Barclays opts out, the Islanders must leave after the 2018-19 season.
Bloomberg reported last week that Barclays officials are preparing for the Islanders’ departure and do not expect to generate any revenue from the team after the 2018-19 season.