Where the Islanders will play home games is once again in question after the operator of NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum said Tuesday it was giving up control of the facility.
The surprising announcement by Mikhail Prokhorov’s Onexim Sports & Entertainment comes a little more than three months after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo came to the Coliseum and announced the Islanders would play all of the team's home games in Uniondale in the 2020-21 season.
The team needs a place to play next season while it awaits the construction of a new arena at Belmont Park. That arena remains on schedule to open in October 2021 despite construction being shut down for two months during the pandemic.
The Islanders have a three-year lease with BSE Global, which runs the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, that calls for the team to split games between both arenas. The Barclays Center was the team's home since 2015. The lease, which began with the 2018-19 season, calls for a minimum of 60 games at the Coliseum over the three years, but both sides agreed to play all of next season in Uniondale. The lease also contains two option years to protect the Islanders against construction delays.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran was asked if the Islanders could still play next season at the Coliseum and said, "Anything is possible."
A spokeswoman for Barclays Center declined to comment.
“This is a severe blow,” Islanders’ Hall of Famer Clark Gillies said. “Everybody was looking forward to being back [at the Coliseum] and now it’s likely not going to happen. It really is a shame. I’m kind of speechless with what’s going on.”
The Coliseum was home to the Islanders from 1972-2015. The team moved to Barclays Center after years of trying to get a new arena built at the site of the Coliseum. The Brooklyn arena proved to be not a good fit for hockey and was too far a commute for their Long Island fan base.
“I know the players hate [the Barclays Center],” Gillies said. “They were loving the Coliseum. It’s a real mess right now, that’s for sure. There’s no other way to put it.”
The Islanders declined to comment.
The NHL is still working on finishing this season with a plan that includes 24 teams playing in two different cities. When the season resumes, the Islanders will play the Florida Panthers in a best-of-five playoff series.
The resumption of the season could push back the start of next season, potentially giving Onexim and Nassau County more time to work out a solution for the Islanders to play at the Coliseum.
“Still lots of time to ensure a viable solution,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said.
The uncertainty of the Islanders’ home arena makes an already challenging situation for the team selling season tickets amid the COVID-19 pandemic-induced economic downturn that much tougher.
“There’s already such an uncertainty of what’s going on, and here it’s layering on another issue that makes a complicated situation even more complicated,” said Lee Igel, an NYU sports business professor. “Everything is up in the air to begin with. Now it just invites more speculating.”