Monday, February 2, 2009

A reason for optimism in uncertain times

This is why we watch. Seeing Kyle Okposo hit his stride as he has the last four games, working alongside fellow youngsters Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau to give the Islanders three straight wins and seven points in their last four games, is exactly the reason why we tune in (in HD or not) or find a seat at the Coliseum.

The present may not be much to look at, but the future has potential. And again, that's all we asked for at the start of the season. Give us some hope. Show us that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

On the ice, it seems that way. Off the ice? Well, that's another story.

Newsday -- after stirring the pot by wondering whether the Isles could end up moving to Kansas City -- published an article Saturday underlining how the team's lease with Nassau County and SMG makes it extremely difficult for the team to leave.

What the article didn't include was how onerous that lease is. It is most likely the worst lease in professional sports. SMG reportedly gets all parking and concession revenues plus a third of ticket sales and advertising revenue.

So when you pay your $7 to park and plop down $20 for a beer, a hot dog and a pretzel, the Isles get bubkus. The team does get most, if not all, luxury box revenue, but that hardly balances things out.

Obviously, SMG guards that lease like a pit bull does a steak. SMG has refused to be bought out in the past, although the Milsteins offered a measly $7 million 10 years ago, nonsense considering SMG gets an estimated $2 million or more per year from its deal with Nassau County.

But while some would point to the Newsday story as evidence that the team isn't going anywhere (experts agreed that the language is very specific), that same story included a quote from another expert who stated the (somewhat) obvious:

"The only way out is through mutually acceptable negotiated termination," said attorney Scott Mollen of Manhattan, who writes about leases for the New York Law Journal.

There are six years left on the lease. Let's say the Town of Hempstead (which should share the spotlight with SMG as the villians in this whole fiasco) keeps stalling, or continues to press for a simple renovation of the arena, without the rest of the Lighthouse features. Let's say Charles Wang has enough of the nonsense and puts the team up for sale.

Now, let's say there is a prospective owner who wants to move the team to a new city with a sparkling new arena already in place (one that would give him the bulk of the game revenue instead of just a fraction). That owner could buy out the remainder of the lease with an offer of $20 million or more, knowing full well that he would earn that money back in a couple of years in his new city.

SMG could balk, forcing the team to stay and honor its lease. But when that lease is up for renewal, the Islanders would demand much better terms, so SMG's days of milk and honey would be over. SMG could just take the money and move on, which would pave the way for the new owner to move the team and leave the Coliseum without a primary tenant, and leave Nassau County and the Town of Hempstead with a LOT of 'splainin' to do.

Is that likely? Probably not. The Coliseum has been a money maker for SMG for years and it would be in their best interest to work out an arrangement with team ownership and the county to continue to manage the arena in the future.

But the "doomsday scenario" certainly is possible, and admitting so doesn't make one an alarmist. Just a realist.

Which is why the Lighthouse Project is so critical. It is everything. It is essential to the Islanders finally turning their fortunes around. Support it here.

Because it is clear that without the Lighthouse, the team's future could end up playing out elsewhere.