Voters right to reject Isles

By Dan Di Sciullo
NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It wasn't supposed to work out this way for Charles Wang.

The Islanders owner had deep pockets and a passion for hockey when he bought the once-proud franchise back in 2000. His goal was to return the Isles back into an NHL powerhouse and get the people of Nassau County and Long Island to love hockey once again.

On Monday, that dream all but ended as Nassau County voters overwhelmingly rejected a plan that would build a new arena for the Islanders, leaving the franchise's future on Long Island in jeopardy.

The referendum asked voters if they supported a plan for the county to borrow $400 million in order to build a new home for the Islanders, as well as a minor league ballpark.

In the end, 57 percent of the Nassau County residents that made it to the polls voted 'no' on the proposal, and it's hard to blame them.

How could Charles Wang convince people that investing in the Islanders' future is good business?
Already faced with some of the highest property taxes in the United States, the residents of Nassau County made it clear Monday that they have no intention of adding to their cost of living just to keep the Isles in town.

It's difficult to fault the voters given the current fiscal state of the U.S., although Wang and Nassau County executive Ed Mangano tried to make the case that a new arena complex would help to grow the local economy. Voters clearly did not buy this line of thinking and Wang lamented that "the sound bites ruled the day and not the facts."

For Wang, it proved to be an impossible sell. After all, how could he convince people that investing in the Islanders' future is good business when Long Islanders know all too well how far this franchise has fallen?

They know that it's been nearly 30 years since the club won the last of its four consecutive Stanley Cup titles. They also know that the team's current home, the 39-year-old Nassau Coliseum, is widely considered to be one of the worst arenas in sports and that the building drew an NHL-worst 11,059 fans per game last season. Not to mention, the Isles have made the playoffs just four times over the last 16 seasons and failed to win a single postseason series over that stretch.

Add those facts to a national unemployment rate that is still over nine percent and one can see why folks are justifiably reticent about placing an even bigger financial burden on themselves for what seems to be a lost cause.

Monday's resounding defeat at the polls is just another sign that the Islanders are not currently an economically viable franchise. Yet, even after this latest setback, Wang and Islanders GM Garth Snow are still talking about how passionate their club's fan base is, despite all evidence to the contrary.

It's true that the Islanders still have a few years to come up with another plan to keep the club in Long Island before the lease at the Coliseum runs out in 2015, but it's hard to see that happening.

Unless the public drastically changes its thoughts about borrowing money to build a stadium, it would seems that the costs of constructing a new arena would have to be privately funded. Needless to say, it will be extremely difficult convincing investors to bet on the Islanders.

Of course, there are ways the team could remain in the New York area, even if they move off the Island. The boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn have been put forth as possible destinations for the franchise, but those are nothing but rumors at this point.

After Winnipeg landed the Atlanta Thrashers, fans in Quebec City would also love to see the Islanders become the latest NHL franchise to move from the U.S. to Canada, but that wouldn't be until the Nassau Coliseum lease runs out in a few years.

At this point, if a savior was to come along and rescue the Islanders from relocation it would be an act of philanthropy and not one grounded in sound business sense. Good luck finding someone that frivolous in such uncertain economic times.

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