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August 1 Vote on Nassau Coliseum: Why you entrench yourself in the community

July 25, 2011

Some of the “vote yes” campaign material put out by the Islanders.

It’s not garnering the buzz it should outside Long Island, but August 1 is looking to be a day of reckoning for one of the NHL’s most storied franchises and recent lottery dweller, the New York Islanders.

On August 1, residents of Nassau County will head to the polls for a referendum vote on whether or not to support government funding for the construction of a new arena to replace the decaying and decrepit Nassau Coliseum, which currently houses the team.

The message of the Islanders’ management is simple: “VOTE YES.”

Hanging in the balance is the fate of the franchise, which Commissioner Gary Bettman has repeatedly stated will not continue to be housed in the Nassau Coliseum after 2015, when the existing lease expires. Or, for that matter, will they continue to call LI home. Kansas City, anyone? If not that, then Hamilton? Quebec City if the Coyotes manage to stay in Arizona? It remains to be seen. But the Islanders won’t be so island-y any more if the residents of their county decide not to support this.

Frankly, the poor management of Garth Snow under Charles Wang has led many to dismiss the team outright, and, consequently, the thoughtfulness and pressure that might be applied to other franchises is absent. In 2005 Mario Lemieux’s ownership group, after snatching Sidney Crosby, was under immense pressure to keep the team in Pittsburgh, while securing a new arena deal. It’s now 2011, and the economic outlook is far bleaker. But the fact remains, for teams looking to gain new arenas, like the Oilers are with Edmonton city  government, it’s a very tall task.

How do you win people over? The fact this comes down to a referendum is all too peculiar, quite democratic, but also somewhat unfair. Referenda votes always are. Trust the people? Can we?!?!

It will result in an increase in taxes, which, well, is a contentious issues these days. And even if that increase is small, even if it is made up for in other revenue, it is a tax increase.

It’s what led you to that point that’s going to matter. Every day there are countless press releases and photo galleries that go live online of NHL players in their communities doing good. Whether it’s the Sedins funding a pediatric ward in a Vancouver hospital, Bruins players reading children’s books at local elementary school or players helping at food banks or soup kitchens around the holidays, NHL players have been engaged in charitable work for a long time. It’s in the nature of hockey players–it reflects well on the sport.

But these engagements may simply seem good for optics, they may seem trite, or perhaps obligatory, at times. But they’re not. The fact is, they’re critical is creating a climate conducive to conducting businesses for these teams. Making non-hockey fans feel like the team is an integral part of the community is extraordinarily important. Imagining a Philly without the Flyers? A Montreal without the Canadiens? What about a Long Island without the Isles? Codependency is critical, and small good deeds go a long way. It’s not meaningless–every trip to a school or hospital is further ingraining the team in hearts and minds.

You ingrain yourself because it’s the right thing to do. But also because it advances that goodwill forward. It’s a deposit for stormier years in the name of the franchise. It’s a deposit of goodwill you can withdraw some day. That day is coming. It’s next week.

Because perception is everything. And when Nassau County voters head to the polls on August 1, if they go at all (hard to get people to vote in the summer on an off-cycle, no?) what will be going through their heads? We can count on diehard Islanders season-ticket holders and long-time fans to be there and voting. And we can count on their relatives and friends who live there, too, even if those Isles supporters have since transplanted elsewhere.

It’s down to those middling hockey fans or those disinterested. And the perceived economic, social and cultural contributions of the Islanders and the new arena in general (because, as the ads so aptly point out, it’s not just about hockey–it’s about concerts and other events). But let’s be clear on this: very few people will come out to vote that are apathetic about the issue, and some may show up among those with Tea Party inclinations and fears of mishandled government spending. But they will be few in number.

What have the Islanders done today? Their rookie game was a means of raising some money, but getting the word out. The chips have to fall where they may. Decades of work in the community since their inception will have to pay off now. The media campaign by the Islanders are just the last little push.

The work has been done. The votes just need to be cast.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 1, 2011 09:06

    I will vote NO!!

  2. Sasha permalink*
    August 1, 2011 10:08

    What’s your rationale?

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