It’s rare that the NHL gets good news when it comes to arena deals and stability. And sometimes, like Calgary, it’s them basically dropping eggs on their own face repeatedly. But it did today when the New York Islanders announced that they won their bid to build a new arena at Belmont Race Track, over NYCFC. I can only imagine the day the railbirds are going to have after getting beat out of a Pick Four by a 30-1 and then walk barely a quarter mile to yell at Nick Leddy for three hours. Actually, that sounds like my perfect day.
While I haven’t seen the ins and outs of the deal, it appears the Islanders and their partners are going to finance this one themselves, which is a real upset. I’m sure there are tax breaks galore involved here, and the land being owned by the racetrack probably puts in further complications. And of course the Isles have to figure out where they’re going to play after next season when the Nets and their Russian nutjob of an owner punt them out of the Barclays Center like Otto squatting in the Simpsons place. And based on their attendance, the Islanders might only leave some mustard behind. Yes, I just mixed my Simpsons metaphors. Sue me.
Still, this is good news, and there’s something unique about the Isles staying on the Island. First off, Belmont is accessible by train from the city (believe me, I know), so those who are coming from there aren’t out of luck like they were getting out to Nassau. But it’s closer to the team’s base on The Island, so that’s a win for everyone.
It took my compatriot Matt McClure pointing it out to me, but the Isles are maybe one of two remaining neighborhood teams in American sports. A team that isn’t identified with a city per se, but a specific area of a metro area. The other would be the baseball team here that plays on the Southside. No, I’m serious. There’s a baseball team there. I’m not kidding! And they’ve got a real nice park with great food. You should totally go. You can find Fifth Feather there still yelling about Todd Frazier. No one’s told him he’s been traded, and we’d prefer if you didn’t either. It’s funnier this way.
The Northside Nine are basically a national brand at this point, and have been for a while. They belong to Iowa and Nebraska and beyond thanks to WGN. While the Isles attempted to move their “neighborhood” to Brooklyn, Brooklyn is 4th biggest city in America by population. This isn’t the Dodgers anymore. You all think of a certain type of Brooklyn-ite, and he’s probably got a mustache and a wool cap in July and such. But that’s just one facet of it.
I guess the Mets could be considered a neighborhood team, and they have the same colors as the Isles, but no one wants to actually claim the Mets. They’re the Moosylvania of sports.
LA’s never had that, because everyone hates Orange County and it’s not a “neighborhood” so much as a “hellscape.” The Clippers and Lakers have either played in the same arena or two arenas that are really close to each other. The A’s and Giants have that identity, but Oakland is a huge place. I guess within the Bay Area, the A’s have the biggest identity in their little place of it, but Oakland is still a city.
Good for the Isles, and good for their collection of fans, even if Long Island is the reason we still have Billy Joel to bother us and also might be the genesis and biggest example of “white flight.” One of the appeals for soccer fans like me and others is that teams are so much more closely identified with where they’re from. Even if it’s a citywide team, there’s a real connection and feel there that sometimes American sports loses out on. Partially because we know how easily they’re moved around. But the Isles and the weirdness that they’re the only ones that come from this specific place and will return there, that has a place. An anti-New York City feel to it is what helped give the Isles their identity. And they’ll get it back.
No, seriously, there’s a baseball team on the Southside. You don’t have to look it up.