One of my favorite things about being an Islanders fan is that I've never really been let down by the team. Sure, the team has done plenty to embarrass me and my fellow fans. But the truth is, I've never expected anything from the Islanders. I was born into Islanders fandom, and someday I'll die an Islanders fan. The team has been pretty terrible for virtually my entire life, and that's fine by me. Quite frankly, I'm just happy that the Islanders are still playing on Long Island at this point.
While I'm a devoted fan, I welcome the fact that I generally know what I'm getting with the Islanders, even if it's not the best of results. It's a hell of a lot better than watching the Mets spend a gazillion dollars each off-season, jack ticket prices up in anticipation of a big season, only to have the season end in heartbreak or, in the past two seasons, apathy. And it's a lot better than watching my beloved Jets, lovably pitiful for much of my life, become the league's most hated team and one that leads the league in arrests and penalties. The Islanders don't expose me to these potential pratfalls. As loyal Islanders fans, we know we're going to watch some good games, we know we're going to see some young players develop... and we also know that, come April, we can go ahead and make other plans.
Or can we?
The Islanders released their single-game ticket prices recently, and... well, so much for my plans to take my daughter to her first Islanders game. A decent seat in the 300s will run you anywhere from $65 to $75, and if you want to go down the to the lower bowl, you're looking at upwards of $95. Those seats at the top of the Coliseum, with the aluminum floor that's fun to bang on, but prevents you from seeing the scoreboard? $35 per ticket. That's a lot of money. In fact, the Islanders' prices are quite similar to what the New Jersey Devils charge for their individual game tickets; in the case of premium games, the Islanders actually charge more.
Therein lies the dilemma. The Devils have a right to charge a hefty price for their tickets. They play in a state-of-the-art palace, and they've been to the playoffs in all but one of the past 20 seasons. Yes, they've won just two playoff series since winning the Cup in 2003, but they've also, you know, been consistently very good, to the tune of 95 or more points every year since 1996-97.
To say the Islanders haven't been as successful would be quite the understatement. This is a team that...
- Has been in the lottery for each of the past three years
- Has won two playoff series in the past 23 years
- Has won three playoff games since 2002
- Has only had one player break the 25-goal plateau in the past three years
- Has never even come close to signing a big-name free agent
I could go on forever, but you get the idea. The point is, the Devils have proven that they're worth paying money to see (not that Devils fans would ever show up at games or anything). The Islanders, on the other hand, continue to sell us on the "future", something we've been hearing for fifteen years now. So you'll have to forgive me and many others for our skepticism. You can't substantially raise ticket prices based on what may happen. At some point, there has to be tangible proof that the team has turned the corner.
This is the quandary the Islanders face in 2010-11. For the past three years, Garth Snow has preached patience to the Islanders fanbase. For three years, fans have complied. But now that ticket prices have reached a level comparable with those of perennial Cup contenders, there's a certain expectation that goes with those prices. The draft lottery is not going to get it done this year, not when fans are paying an average of $75 a ticket. The absolute minimum expectation for the New York Islanders has to be the playoffs.
Are the playoffs within the realm of possibility? Absolutely. The Islanders have spent a long time maturing and preparing to make a move, and this very well could be the year it all comes together. But if it's not, the Islanders will have some explaining to do. The fans this year will expect a winner, not yet another rebuilding year - and at the prices the Islanders are charging, the fans are entitled to a significant return on their investment.