Thursday, October 1, 2015

Islanders Fans and Brett Yormark: Not Perfect Together

My son likes to complain that hockey in general and the Islanders in particular don't get enough coverage in the media, nationally or in New York, and he's right. There are reasons for that, and we know what they are, so I was happily surprised to hear, as I drove home from work this evening, that Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark was coming on Michael Kay's ESPN Radio show to discuss the goal horn controversy that had erupted earlier this week.

But what I heard wasn't a discussion per se, so much as a lecture. Yormark announced that the goal horn on opening night and this season would not be the shrill, painful, blood-from-the-ears inducing shriek that the team debuted against the Capitals last weekend.

Instead, the Islanders will employ the horn that the team has used in recent years. You know, the one that Islanders fans love and is, in their opinion, one of the best in the league.

The news itself wasn't what was interesting about Yormark's appearance, but the tone in which it was delivered.

"I am not acquiescing," Yormark stubbornly said of the about-face, noting that he was in London on Monday and missed all the hoo-hah. He then proceeded to scold fans who were rude to him on Twitter (if the kitchen's hot, Brett, you know where the door is) and then, in the next few minutes, provided a very interesting glimpse into how he views the move to Brooklyn.

This is not about taking a storied team and its fan base and trying to grow it in Brooklyn. It is about relocating a storied team to populous, moneyed, trendy Brooklyn, and if we can get some of the fan base to come along, great, but if not, fuck 'em.

Now I am not one of the whiners who pine for the Coliseum. It was a dump. The whole arena issue was a fiasco, the blame lies mostly with politicians, and my view is that Brooklyn is better than Quebec City. I live in Suffolk County, I drive to Mets games, I know plenty of people who take the train to MSG for the Rangers and Knicks and they don't seem to mind, so let's be happy the team is still relatively local.

I do have serious issues with the seating at Barclays and how the Isles will be playing in something that is most definitely not a hockey arena, but not having yet been to the place, I'm holding off on that for now.

So for me, Brooklyn does not equal bad. There are others who disagree and are really pissed off. What both sides can agree on is that the Islanders have a tradition and a culture that need to be maintained while this new era begins.

Listening to Yormark, you'd think that he and the other suits running things sacrificed so much so far, listing "all the things they've done" to ease the transition.

- They're hanging the banners. Really? Like this was a choice? Why wouldn't you hang the banners commemorating your winning past in your own house? Gee, thanks, Brett.

- They kept the organ and the organist and PA guy Roger Luce.  A no-brainer.  The Coliseum, for all of its faults, had a stellar reputation for the environment within the bowl, and replicating the sounds of that place only helps to keep the vibe intact. And that includes the goal horn.

- They're working with the LIRR to add extra train service on game nights. Duh. More trains equals more fans. Genius!

He said the only new things they did was create the black-and-white third jersey and change the goal horn. (Not true - they got rid of Sparky and the Ice Girls.)

Say, Brett, I can think of something else that's new.  The arena itself? Located in the city and not the suburbs? A building that replaced one where so many memories were born?

Yormark doesn't seem to grasp how psychologically monumental the move to Brooklyn is for so many fans. Or, he just doesn't want to. He's more interested in growing the brand and sees dollar signs in all those hipsters gentrifying the borough of Spike Lee, the Dodgers, Nathan's, Coney Island, brownstones, Vinnie Barbarino, and my father.

On Kay's show, he sounded like a petulant child who was forced to give back the cookie he snuck out of the jar. Or a parent lecturing a child who doesn't know what's best for him.

Islanders fans must understand, he said, that there need to be compromises.  That the history is important but so is the future.

We get that, but the lease is a long one. This is the first season in the new place. Small moves are necessary. You cannot treat the fan base so cavalierly because without them, there is no team. Yes, we want more people to be Islanders fans, and hopefully the team will thrive in Brooklyn and more and more will jump on the bandwagon.  Just don't forget about all of those who already have seats.

Mistakes happen. Citi Field opened with too little Mets history and too much Dodgers stuff. The Mets fixed it. The goal horn choice was a bad one. The idea wasn't necessarily unsound, but the execution  — no one with ears can tell me that sound isn't the (second-most) annoying sound in the world — was terrible.

Yormark gave us back the horn, but he was only throwing us a bone that should never have been taken away in the first place.

He also noted that the online petition calling for the old horn to be restored had 650 signatures but only 30 were season-ticket holders.  He then had the balls to tell those who complained to buy season tickets and support the team, and that sales representatives were standing by.

It was a Brooklyn thing to do, I guess; Yorkmark had some stugots saying that. But I've never had season tickets. I go to a handful of games every year and will try to do the same this season. I do, however, watch just about every game, I've been a fan for almost 40 years, and I am confident I have more knowledge about the Islanders and hockey in the nail on my pinkie toe than Yormark has in his whole brain.

My lack of season tickets does not define my fandom.

Hey, Brett. It's not all about the money.

Now fix those damn seats.