The New York Islanders moved from their long-term home at Nassau Coliseum to Barclays Center in time for the 2015-16 season, and the change was immediately termed a disaster.
Far from their fan base and playing in a venue designed for basketball, the Islanders were near the bottom of the NHL in attendance and within months of the move, other hockey-starved cities were being mentioned as possible destinations for the club as soon as they could opt out of their lease with Barclays expired.
Now that the Islanders have completed their second season in Brooklyn, things have improved slightly, and that seems to be enough for rumors to start floating around that the team might actually stay beyond their initial five-year commitment. So let’s review the experience at Barclays in season two and figure out if this marriage can be salvaged.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Barclays Center is very proud of being in Brooklyn and every concession stand has a "Brooklyn Taste," a special item that has a local connection. As you would expect in New York, food is quite expensive, though value can be found.
A small burger at Paisano's is $10, but you can use "gourmet" toppings (relish, pickles, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, jalapenos, ketchup, and mustard) to fill up. This was given a positive review by my tasting partner, while I tried the chicken tenders and fries from the same stand (also $10) and was impressed with the portion size for the price, with the quality better than expected.
As you move around the lower concourse, you will see many choices. Calexico offers Baja fish tacos for $14 or a Cheese Quesadilla for $10; David's Deli has deli-style sandwiches on thick cut rye for $16.75, while an Italian beef sandwich is $10. BQE has a sausage here for $10, BBQ Brisket sandwich for $12, or a Four Cheese Mac'n'Cheese for $10.
Brooklyn Bangers and Dogs has sausage, kielbasa, and brats for $8.50 each, while Carla Hall's Southern Kitchen tempts you with a hot chicken sandwich for $11. A slice of Williamsburg Pizza will run you $6.75, while a chicken Caesar salad is $9.50 and a Greek Salad is $12 at the same spot.
Boomer and Carton Kitchen, which uses the names of two WFAN sports talk hosts (you might have heard of Boomer Esiason from his time as an NFL quarterback), offers burgers and sandwiches for $14, a Border Dog with guacamole for $9.75, a pastrami Reuben Eggroll for $10, and a filet steak sandwich for $14. Buffalo Boss boasts boneless wings at $10.75 or a salad for $14.
If you are thinking of something a bit different try Habana, their pressed Cuban sandwich is $13, but very tasty. The grilled corn is only $7, while mojo chicken bowl is $10.
Your typical arena fare is also available here, such as Nathan's Hot Dogs for $6 or a jumbo pretzel for $5, and bottomless popcorn for $7.50. A bag of McClure's Potato Chips is $4.75.
On the sweeter side, a black and white cookie from Beigel's Bakery runs $5.25, and chocolate covered animal crackers are $5.50. You can also try Hello Sugar, a large candy store on the main concourse, which is literally the brightest spot in the entire building.
On the beverage side, beer is widely available with domestic drafts an unrealistic $11.25 and imports $12.50. Coca-Cola products are $6 for a regular fountain soda and $6.50 for a bottle, while water is a relative bargain at $5.50.
Overall, there is great variety with a lot of local flavors and generally good quality for an arena, but be prepared to overpay for your dinner.
The oculus in front of the main entrance is the signature architectural element of Barclays Center. It has an electronic signboard that rotates through many ads. When the doors open, expect to wait unless you have no bags-security does a very thorough bag check. This is typical in New York these days, and lines move quickly enough as long as you don't end up behind some fans who don't understand what "No Outside Food or Beverage" means. Tablets are permitted in the building, but are not allowed to be used in the seating bowl.
When you enter, you are at the east end of the rink, and this is where the obstructed view seats can be found. The seating bowl was designed for basketball, so many of the seats do not allow for full views of the ice, including those at one end of the upper deck that have no view of the goal below. Seats in that half of the lower bowl point towards center ice, forcing fans to look over their shoulder when play enters the far end. I would guess that about 30% of the seating bowl suffers from poor seating options, but there is little that can be done. Make sure to avoid sections 201-204 and 229-232 at a minimum.
When the team first moved here, many of the Islanders entertainment elements, including Sparky the Dragon, did not join. But that has been rectified and Sparky can now be seen around the rink entertaining fans. Organist Paul Cartier was brought along and sits above the east end goal, playing arena staples during the game.
The pregame intro begins with a countdown from 10 and then the arena goes dark while Islander highlights are played. The players emerge, the starting lineup is introduced, the anthem is sung, and the puck is dropped; all a standard NHL pregame.
During the games, the ice scrape breaks are filled with promotions advertising other upcoming events at Barclays Center or some in-game contests. Fans are encouraged to Make Noise, and they try their best, but the lack of a crowd in Ľ of the rink makes it difficult to sustain. Intermissions now have a few minutes of entertainment before the Zambonis arrive.
Fans also continue with "Woo!" chants after the goal horn followed by "Yes! Yes! Yes!" after every goal, a tradition that was actually started only in 2013. At least once per game, fans join in the "If you know the Rangers suck, clap your hands" chant. The arena is still too quiet at times, because there are not enough fans and much of the obstructed view side is completely empty.
The scoreboard is top notch, with HD quality video, and includes basic player stats for those on the ice (much like in basketball), a nice addition that is becoming more common in the NHL. Replays are shown for opposition goals as well, something that some NHL teams refuse to do. During intermissions, detailed team stats are displayed on the scoreboard as well, while an out-of-town scoreboard is found on the ribbon boards between the seating levels, and includes games from other sports.
Legroom is not a problem, because most of the seat below rests against the riser. However, there is not much room to pass other fans, even if everyone stands up. Cup holders are provided but in many cases in some sections they have broken off as they were resting right against the floor and were being kicked by fans struggling to get to their seat.
The darkness is an issue in the top rows of the upper deck along the sides; it is too dark to even read the free programs that are handed out.
Located in the Atlantic Yards development at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush Avenue, the arena is in the center of this quickly expanding area of New York. Brooklyn is rapidly gentrifying, but with a population of 2.6 million, (4th in the nation if it were an independent city), there are many interesting areas to visit, ranging from eclectic, hipster Williamsburg to Coney Island, where the Brooklyn Cyclones play baseball. Exploring each of these could take days, but for those visiting only for the game, there is more than enough in the vicinity of Barclays Center to keep you busy.
Culturally, there are several theatres blocks away and art galleries dot the area as well. If you only have time to visit one attraction, consider the Brooklyn Museum, just one stop away on the 4 express train.
LIU Brooklyn and Saint Francis University are nearby and occasionally have afternoon athletic events if you are an avid sports traveler and want to pack in as many games as you can. The nearest sports bar is a Buffalo Wild Wings in the Atlantic Terminal just across Atlantic Avenue from the arena, but there are several other superior options such as Pacific Standard on 4th Avenue, known for its microbrew selection, and The KBH, a large beer hall with brats and burgers.
Further down 4th Avenue is Threes Brewing, which serves their own craft beer. Popular fast food chain Shake Shack is just across Flatbush for those in need of a cheap hamburger before or after the game, though expect a line at either time.
The biggest problem with the move to Barclays Center is that most true Islander fans were left behind. The main reason for the poor turnout is that too many Islander fans live out on Long Island and cannot afford the regular commute (a return peak/off-peak ticket from Hempstead is $19.75) or the time it takes, particularly on weeknights. In the second season, attendance dropped by 500 a game.
Lower season ticket prices might improve things next year but the club is simply not bringing in enough new fans from Brooklyn. Having terrible attendance in the league might not be a bad thing if the team is generating big bucks for premium suites and glass seats (face value for one ticket I saw was $1,250). But it is a bad thing for this category. Islander fans were great at Nassau Coliseum, but they are not here in enough numbers to give any real home ice advantage.
Getting to Barclays Center couldn't be easier on public transit. There are nine subway lines that have a stop at Atlantic Avenue stop plus two more nearby. The Long Island Railroad is another option, though more expensive. In most cases, you will exit the station into the large plaza in front, with the oculus in clear view.
This is as dramatic an approach as you will get in a downtown venue and most fans stop to take a picture. The main entrance might have long lines if you show up just as gates open, while the Atlantic Avenue entrance is just down the street to the left and should provide a quicker entry to the venue. Get there early as the lines tend to form again as the opening face off approaches.
The lower concourse is not that wide as the arena has a relatively small footprint given that it is surrounded by city streets on all sides. The upper concourse is even narrower and gets crowded during intermissions. There are escalators on the north and south sides of the building to take you between levels. These move fairly well after the game.
Ushers usually check your ticket regardless of where you are sitting, so have it ready for inspection, even after you have sat down once. I did find that the overall attitude of the ushers improved over the off-season and they were generally more welcoming than before.
As is usually the case at hockey games, lines form at restrooms during intermissions, but they move quickly enough. After the game, the crowd empties quickly through the main entrance, with most fans returning to the subway or LIRR for the train ride home.
The Islanders employ a dynamic pricing system, so tickets for the Rangers visits are quadruple what you would pay when the Coyotes are in town. But given how poorly the team draws, ignore the box office and get something on the secondary market. Just remember that sections 201-204 and 228-231 in the east end have obstructed views. Also note that the end zone seats are closer to the ice than those along the sides; rows higher than 10 along the sides are very far away. I prefer section 215 and 217 in the west end, where the Islanders attack twice, as those provide the best combination of value and view.
The Islanders missed the playoffs this past season, but look to be a better team next year, and are worth checking out as you can see quality hockey here for far less than you would pay at Madison Square Garden, as long as you are not sitting in the first few rows of the lower bowl or any of the obstructed view seats.
There still isn't much hockey history here outside of the Islanders Stanley Cup banners and retired numbers.
The Ebbets Field flagpole at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush, installed to honor the return of pro sports to Brooklyn, is worth a point.
There is a nice display on the Black Fives era, but this is a basketball tribute. I'd like to see something related to the history of the Islanders.
The experience at Barclays improved primarily through efforts of the management team in convincing the gameday staff to treat fans like paying customers. Whereas the first season culminated in a nationally publicized incident involving fans being thrown out for taking a picture, the past year saw more smiling faces and interaction between fans and ushers. That doesn't mean it is by any means perfect, but I found it much easier to move around the building without being hassled, and I was greeted by a friendly face every time I entered.
Still, the overall atmosphere will always suffer because about 1/4 of the building is empty due to the obstructed view seats. Season-ticket prices are being lowered next season, which might attract a few more fans, but with Barclays being so large and so many seats so far away, it will never replicate the energy found at the Coliseum. These are not meaningful issues for the businessmen who run Barclays though, what matters is the bottom line.
Somehow, the Islanders made money for the Barclays Center, which would be hard pressed to fill 44 dates every winter. Still, a recent article suggested that the owners of the venue are trying to move the Islanders back to the Nassau Coliseum, which has just been renovated. So at this point, it is not clear how long the Islanders will remain in Brooklyn. Until they move, the Barclays Center will continue to be one of the least attractive destinations for NHL hockey.
The New York Islanders are the only club in the Big 4 to move into a new home in 2015, leaving the decaying Nassau Coliseum for the bright lights of Brooklyn and the Barclays Center. Brooklyn is still part of Long Island, so the team need not change their name, but if early indications are accurate, they will need to change their approach to avoid having this move end up in disaster.
Barclays Center was opened in 2012 for the newly-relocated Brooklyn Nets of the NBA. Sparkling and expensive, it enjoyed positive reviews initially; although among basketball fans it has become known as the Darklay’s Center as the upper bowl seats are poorly lit at best. The Islanders had played a couple of exhibition games here in previous seasons but finally made the full-time move when their lease at the Coliseum expired after the 2014-15 season.
As part of the move, the Islanders turned over their entire business operation to the owners of Barclays Center. In return, the arena’s management pays the Islanders an annual fee, which is capped at an unpublished number. All revenues go to Barclays Center, including ticket sales, so it is in their best interests to improve the arena experience to fill as many seats as possible. The term used by Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark is “monetize,” so you can expect a much more expensive approach in Brooklyn. Will it work? Stadium Journey has attended a few games early in the 2015-2016 season to give the team time to work out the kinks, but even then, the venue has not adapted very well to hockey.
The NY Islanders have moved from Nassau County & the Nassau Coliseum to Downtown Brooklyn. The only tradition they took with them is some of their fan base. Those who have showed up so far have been vocal like in years past. The biggest difference is the darkness of the building. For whatever reason, the Barclays Center was very poorly constructed. it wasn't built for hockey. That with standing, there are no light fixtures at all in the upper level which is mind boggling to say the least. If & when you go there, I strongly suggest that you carry a pocket flashlight or just use a smartphone so you can find your way to your seat if it's upstairs. The rows are very narrow. You need to be very careful so you don't lose your balance getting in & out of the rows. In addition, the people who work there are the unfriendliest of people you want to meet. I blame that on the big wigs who are in charge.
I can't say there's not a bad seat in the place. I can't say that everyone's pleased with the move to Brooklyn. I can't say it's the best place in the NHL. But I can say it is one of the better buildings in the NHL.
Yes, there are obstructed seats. But if you get the chance to see a game live, try moving towards those obstructed seats. I suggest trying (if possible) Sections 3 or 29, where you just might have the best view in the NHL.
The building has every amenity that Islander fans are literally in awe about from WiFi to suites to bars to clubs, and a candy store (which has very good ice cream).
The food at Barclays Center might be pretty expensive, there is a lot of variety, and the quality is excellent. And because I'm a Starbucks lover, extra points go to the Starbucks kiosk inside.
Do I prefer my 20 minute commute to the Coliseum as opposed to as much as maybe 90 minutes on the train to and from Barclays Center? Absolutely. But I can easily take the train to Brooklyn, even if it involves a transfer to a train that is literally across the platform.
The arena was quiet the first month into the season, but the atmosphere has certainly picked up to what it was at the Coliseum, and is quite better and more lively than other buildings across the NHL.
I highly recommend you see a game, and don't worry, the obstructed views aren't as bad as people make it out to be.
This building has been universally panned as a hockey facility, and with good reason. A good quarter to a third of the seats face the wrong way or feature obstructed views. The place was clearly built with hoops in mind, not pucks. The upper deck is very steeply pitched, which creates really good sight lines, but makes for seating very far from the action. As you would expect, food selection is fantastic, but very expensive. The neighborhood, while gritty, doesn't feel unsafe. The monochrome black theme extends to the concourses, making them dark and dreary. The color scheme is extending to the team on the ice, as well. It's just a matter of time before the familiar blue and orange is changed to the Nets colors, I am afraid.
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