Islanders fans react in the second period against the Winnipeg...

 Islanders fans react in the second period against the Winnipeg Jets at UBS Arena on March 23, 2024. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Never underestimate the power of playoff hockey, even if it only lasts one round.

The Islanders experienced an uptick in second-half attendance at UBS Arena after the hiring of coach Patrick Roy in January and the team's late-season push to make the playoffs. Attendance was down nearly 5% past the midway point of the season thanks, in part, to the team's lackluster play, complaints from fans about the difficulty in getting to and from the arena and the high cost of attending games. Roy's arrival and the playoff appearance also helped renew greater trust among the fan base, according to fans interviewed by Newsday.

Still, regular-season attendance numbers were the lowest in the three-year history of the $1.1 billion arena.

UBS Arena averaged 16,558 for the 40 regular-season Islanders games this season, or 96% of the arena’s 17,255 capacity, according to numbers obtained by Newsday. That’s 153 fewer fans per game than last season, and 527 fewer fans per game since the arena’s inaugural season in 2021 — a 3.1% drop in attendance since UBS Arena’s opening, but still considerably better than the 4.7% drop they suffered after the team’s first 28 home games this season.

Patrick Roy took over as Islanders head coach on Jan....

Patrick Roy took over as Islanders head coach on Jan. 20, 2024. Credit: Jim McIsaac

“I believe that hiring Patrick Roy was a huge shot in the arm for the organization and the fans,” said Rick Kern, a season-ticket holder from Roslyn Heights. “You could tell [the players] were eager to improve and soak in anything and everything he had to offer. I don’t think they would have made the playoffs without Roy. . . . So, as a longtime Isles fan, I’ll continue to live and die with each game, hate the prices of overpriced food and drink, but love to go to UBS when they are winning.”

Neither the Islanders nor UBS Arena representatives responded to multiple requests for comment.

Over the final 12 home games of the regular season, the Islanders averaged 17,195 fans per game with 11 sellouts, resulting in an attendance average increase of 5.43% compared with the first 28 games. Both home playoff games against the Carolina Hurricanes were sellouts.

Before Roy's hiring, the Islanders averaged 16,075 fans per game, with half of those 22 games being sellouts. In the 18 home games with Roy behind the bench, the Islanders drew 17,150 fans on average, including 16 sellouts.

Ticket price hike

It's been a bullish year for the NHL, with the league drawing a record 22.9 million fans during the regular season — a 1.9% increase from last season, according to Sports Business Journal. The Islanders were one of just seven NHL teams to see an average attendance decline for home games (these numbers exclude special outdoor and overseas games).

Additionally, in February, the team informed season-ticket holders via email that prices for next season would be increasing at or around 11% and that some would be losing the ability to purchase spots in one of the parking lots closest to the arena, according to multiple fans.

But Bruce Temple, who was planning to cancel his season-ticket package after learning he was being bounced from the nearby Belmont Park Garage to the Emerald Lot situated a half mile away, said he reconsidered when he was contacted by his ticket representative and allowed access to closer parking.

Temple, a retired teacher from New Hyde Park, said waiting for a shuttle from the Emerald Lot to the arena — especially in inclement weather — was just too much.

“I spoke to my sales rep and told her that if I could not get garage parking, I would not be renewing my plan for '24-25,” he said. “She called me a few days later and said she had secured garage parking for me, so I renewed my plan for next year.”

An arena source confirmed the loss of some spots in February,   adding that the number of parking garage spots lost has yet to be determined and may even vary from game to game. 

Before the reversal, Temple was told the lost spots were meant to service the 415,000-square-foot retail village south of Hempstead Turnpike that is scheduled to open in September. Earlier this year, a representative of Sterling Project Development, which is in charge of the retail village, confirmed the shopping center will be serviced by “existing parking opportunities across the Belmont Park master plan.”

Andrew Ford, a season-ticket holder from Bethpage, also was first told he’d lose the chance to purchase parking in the garage, and then told the decision had been reversed. He still canceled his plan.

“If the Islanders wanted to foster a better relationship with their fans, it needs to start treating season-ticket holders with a little more respect,” Ford said, adding that he gets more benefits at the arena by being an American Express card holder than by being a season-ticket holder. “[It] simply wasn't appealing enough, even with the team pushing the playoffs. . . . Beyond asking why I wasn't renewing, I got no other contact from the Islanders. Next season, we will simply pick and choose our games and buy them off the secondary market.”

Commish preaches patience

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman encouraged patience because the area around the arena is still being developed. In addition to the retail village, the Belmont Park racetrack is undergoing a $455 million renovation and is set to reopen in 2026. Bettman said he’s seen improvements since the venue’s opening.

“The traffic flow since the time they opened has been a work in progress,” Bettman said in May when asked about the attendance decline. “When you think about the fact that they’ve had 100,000 people for the Belmont Stakes, they’ll get it sorted out. Secondly, over time people at a new arena have to get used to how they access the arena, where their seats are, where they get in, that’s not anything unusual for a new arena. I’ve been out there for a number of games, and I see the adjustments that they’ve made in traffic flow. So, it’ll get sorted out. People have to get used to the patterns.”

There have been concrete improvements, particularly to train service. Though the LIRR station is a half mile away and originally only offered westbound service, eastbound service was introduced in November 2022. Additionally, LIRR trains now run from Grand Central Station, not just Penn Station.

Either way, fans do seem more enthusiastic about the future of the team — which likely means good things for the future of UBS.

Tom McGuire, a West Islip native and former season-ticket holder who didn’t renew his package this past year, said he still doesn’t intend to re-purchase a plan but he’s heartened by some of the changes. Those changes include surrounding amenities like “The Park at UBS Arena” — a skating rink with a beer garden.

Fans react when their team scores as they watch the...

Fans react when their team scores as they watch the game during the Islanders Watch Party in the park at UBS Arena, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024. Credit: Jeff Bachner

“I was disappointed to see ticket prices were once again bumped up, [but] while it does not totally offset the additional costs, I was impressed with the park,” he said. “As the weather warms up at the end of the season, I would love to be able to enjoy the outdoor area near the rink before games more often. With the construction at the track next door, the Islanders' leadership found a way to make the surrounding area still appealing. I hope they continue bringing more live music or other fan experience options to the park for next year.”

The Islanders, though, might still need to do more to move the needle.

“The playoff push definitely helped drive up interest for me,” said Craig Dixon, a former season-ticket holder from Lynbrook. “I’m excited that Patrick Roy is the head coach now, but I’ll definitely be more interested next year after an entire offseason and training camp under his leadership. I can’t see myself re-upping a season-ticket package any time soon with how astronomical playoff tickets were. I’ll go to somewhere between five to 10 games a season at this point, but nothing more."

With Hank Winnicki

Islanders average attendance at UBS Arena:

Season    Avg. attendance     % capacity

2021-22        17,085                   99.1

2022-23        16,711                   96.9

2023-24        16,558                   96.0

UBS Arena attendance in 2023-24:

                LANE LAMBERT        PATRICK ROY

Games                 22                           18

Total attendance  353,655            308,697

Avg./game            16,075              17,150

% capacity             93.2                   99.4

Sellouts                 11                         16

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