Even though the Islanders’ new UBS Arena is two seasons away, its opening could be a mere 14 months distant — assuming the NHL gets back on schedule for 2021-22 after what will be a late start to next season.
So the team’s business operation is not wasting any time preparing, as seen in the many television commercials promoting the new building during Islanders playoff games.
But pro franchises do not live by mere ticket-buyers alone, and while construction continues at Belmont Park, a branch office of sorts has sprouted in Manhattan’s Flatiron District.
It is called the “Preview Club,” a lavishly appointed fifth-floor space where high-end sponsors, advertisers and potential suite buyers will be given a flavor of the new arena, which will pay homage to area landmarks and style.
That was where co-owner Jon Ledecky watched Game 1 of the first-round playoff series against the Capitals on Wednesday, hosting an early group of guests in preparing for further ramping up the visitor list in coming months.
“I think we’re trying to show our premium customers, our sponsors and our partners the aesthetic of what the arena is going to be all about,” Ledecky said amid memorabilia including Billy Smith’s goalie pad, Bill Torrey’s bowtie and four replica Stanley Cups.
Tim Leiweke, CEO of Oak View Group, a partner in the arena, said the club is a testament to Ledecky’s connection to fans, co-owner Scott Malkin’s style sensibility and Oak View’s ties to the concert business.
“I like the Preview Club because it was a good learning curve for all of us to find a way to mesh all those ideas into one cohesive culture,” Leiweke said.
If all goes well, the club will outlive its usefulness by the time the new arena opens, because it will have sold out its inventory. But Leiweke said the investment is designed for more than the revenue it generates directly.
“For the dollars spent,” Leiweke said, “I think the Preview Club is probably the best way we can allow people to come in here and say, ‘Oh, I get it. Now I get what these guys are thinking about. I get the history and tradition.’’
The timing is tricky because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Leiweke said a process that normally might take 18 months will have to be condensed into a year or so, because he does not want his staff pushing the issue given the current climate.
“I’m one of those people who keeps saying, ‘Be patient, be patient,’ we don’t need to rush people in there yet,” he said. “New York is not in a buying mood. We should wait until the clouds lift, and it will do its job.”
If all this sound irrelevant to most average fans, it is — at least directly. But taking care of high rollers is a key part of the business model for modern arenas.
Construction still is on pace for a fall 2021 opening at Belmont. Leiweke said there should be a roof in place by the end of the year, which will allow for indoor work to continue regardless of winter weather.
“Once that roof goes on the building toward the end of the year, then we can really focus on the inside,” Ledecky said.
The Islanders say they have sold 3,000 season tickets since the announcement of UBS’ sponsorship last month.
As for next season, which is expected to begin in December, the Islanders still are hoping and planning to play at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
“I see no reason why that can’t happen,” Ledecky said. “In talking to the political leaders in the region, they’re very committed to having that happen.”
Later, he added, “We are playing in front of fans (next season) and we will be playing at the Nassau Coliseum.”
When the game ended with the Islanders rallying for a 4-2 victory, Ledecky’s cell phone sounded like a pinball machine as congratulatory texts poured in by the second.
It was a reminder that while fancy clubs are nice, deep playoff runs are an even better way to keep prospective customers happy.