This was a week of addressing the fans for the Isles brass. First, Garth Snow addressed two sessions of select season ticket holders before both Thursday and Saturday’s game and then Sunday afternoon, Charles Wang sat down with Howie Rose to discuss “The State of the Islanders.”
Neither had any “big” message to convey, as there really isn’t any news on the most pressing issues facing the franchise. No. But both men wanted to personally address the fan base.
It was a select group of season ticket holders that gathered in the private dining hall on the lower concourse of the coliseum Thursday night before the Isles beat the Penguins for a second time in a row. These are the people Garth Snow cares the most about -- the season ticket holders who put their faith and dollars behind this team year after year.
“Did you check them for weapons?” Snow asked as he entered the room. He didn’t know what to expect but was prepared to answer any and all questions to the best of his ability. And he did. From trades to coaching to ticket prices -- he listened and responded with such candor that I found myself in wondering if the PR director was going to swoop in and shut him down.
These were answers the media have not heard. These answers were for the most loyal of the loyal fans. I quickly switched to my video camera to catch it all. While the word of the night going into the conversation was “frustration” at the way the season had turned out, by the end of the Q&A period it had turned more into “hope.”
I had read on message boards what one of those invited to this exclusive meeting was planning to say and really wondered what it was going to turn into. The message board gripes and calls for Snow’s head were nowhere to be heard in the room. As a matter of fact, I was a little surprised to hear a portion of them compliment him on the job he has done under the circumstances. I waited for the finger pointing and angry discontent. A half hour later, it finally came in the form of anger over ticket prices; an understandable bone of contention considering the economic situation as well as the uncertainty of the Isles situation.
However, it really wasn’t Garth’s area of expertise. He had to ask the sales team if they had gone up and asked if they went up last year too. For the 2011-2012 season, the Isles had realigned prices and some went up and some went down. Just as everything else has gone up, and the cost of doing any sort of business has risen, the Isles new pricing has also seen an increase. So has most of the league. (This is something I’ll work on exploring while my Nashville blogger buddies are working on articles about playoffs. Thanks.)
Without details Garth answered as best he could with a car analogy. You may want to drive a Lamborghini but if it doesn’t work for you, you may have to drive something else. But for some of the STHs, the question isn’t about affording the tickets, it’s about WHY they should continue to invest in the team. Garth’s answer to that made the most sense.
“Do you love hockey? Do you like the entertainment? Do you love watching John Tavares grow?” I don’t think anyone in that room could have answered ’No’.
Yes, we know there are still issues at hand: the building, the payroll and where they will be after 2015. But none of those issues had answers that night or three days later when Charles Wang addressed the fan base.
What isn’t really an issue is the amount of talent on this team that continues to grow and develop into a future contender. No one can say how long it will take before this team is deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs. No one can tell us where they will even be playing when that happens. But the goal is to get there. We can either go along for the ride or opt out.
After I left the meeting I had discussions with a few of the STHs on the concourse. They gave me many items to discuss after there isn’t any Islander hockey to talk about such as the radio deal, the abolishment of the Business Club and the lack of STH perks. I’ll look into those things, I promise.
As I hurried up to the press box before the game, I rode the elevator with Mike Bossy, a few suite holders and a sales man. The Suite holder announced he had just signed up again for next season and was excited about it. That made Bossy5050 look up from his iPhone and smile.
I guess he thought “he gets it.”
On Sunday afternoon, Howie Rose and Charles Wang began his version of the “State of the Isles” with;
“I want to thank the fans for their support. I know hits been a year of ups and downs. We have a young team. They are moving in the right direction. It’s an exiting team though and I’m already looking forward to next season.”
Plans for the 2012-2013 season have been moving swiftly along highlighted by the first professional sports game scheduled to be played at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn against the Devils. Tickets are already on sale for what Charles called historic.
Of course that move (should it take place if the season starts on time due to the impending CBA negotiations hanging over our heads) conjures the question “Should the Isles just move to Brooklyn.” Howie pressed the issue asking if Ratner had asked about a “partnership” and whether the Isles could legally play there even BEFORE the lease expired.
“If there was an interest to do that, we have to deal with the county that says we have to play all our home games here and what about all our season ticket holders? “ He admitted being “jealous” of the facility.
But, there were no answers to where the team would be after the lease expires. “You know everyone knows how disappointed and frustrated I am with the whole process, all the political stuff. We have no definite answer but we are committed and trying our best. We want to be and should be in the NY area. We just don’t know.”
Regarding the political football the Islanders have become, while Charles said he believes the politicians “… trying to do what they believe is best for LI….” they should still be held accountable for their decisions and inaction.
On his reluctance to discuss the situation, Mr. Wang rightly expressed his reluctance to discuss anything with the press when there is really no information to convey. However, “We believe we will be in the NY area and continue to work towards that.”
The Islanders have been criticized about their payroll situation and Howie knew this is the man who sets the budget. He asked if the Islanders anticipated staying at the NHL cap floor. (Bold move Mr. Rose. Bold move.)
“When you improve the team, it isn’t spending only money. It’s bringing in the right talent. We’re committed to building from within. Some of the kids are now our veterans today. You see them stepping into their own more and more.”
And actually the painfully slow rebuild through the draft and development is actually a proven NHL model. Many of the players understand the direction and are on board with it as noted by the contract lengths they agree to when they’re not even sure where the team will be.
As owner and chief salesman he admitted that every year you want to expect to win the Stanley Cup. That is every team’s goal . “When the season starts, we’re all perfect. We’re at 0-0.”
I cannot believe that Howie Rose actually thought he’d get a 100% honest answer on the return of both GM & coach. There isn’t an owner in the NHL that would willingly throw their GM or Coach under a bus before making a formal announcement. (Brian Burke continued to tout his faith in Ron Wilson up until the day he fired him.)
“I think they’ve done a very good job. I have complete confidence in them.” Today.