In my “other life” — when I am not screaming at the television over another bone-headed play by one of the boys in blue and orange — I am a business owner. I work hard at my craft, and I try to do what I can for my clients. I did not go to “business school” nor do I have an MBA. I’m just a sole proprietor who takes his craft seriously and cares deeply about the product that has my name on it. I raise this issue because the things happening with the New York Islanders are no longer just about the on-ice troubles and losing streaks, but what is happening with the owner of the franchise.
I just read a report covered by Neil Best at Newsday that Chris Botta’s blog, IslandersPointBlank.com has been shut down at the hands of the New York Islanders. The NHL has stepped in to help mediate the issue between Chris Botta, who was an Isles executive for 20 years, and the Islanders. The blog was started when the Islanders themselves came to Botta to sponsor the blog. Since its inception the blog has become a popular place for Isles fans. Mr. Botta has been able to develop a new career path through the blog, and has become a senior writer at AOL Fanhouse, and has become associated with SNY presenting stories about the Islanders, often interviewing former Islander players such as Ray Ferraro, Kevin Weeks, and Glenn Healy.
The blog has been “shut down” since late Wednesday. The most recent news Mr. Botta wrote on his blog had much to do with the Islanders recent firing of Scott Gordon, and a review of the Islanders as a team — specifically the results on the ice. The review by Mr. Botta was reasonable by most accounts, and while not favorable to the team, and critical of the state of the rebuild, it was fair in its assessment of the results the Islanders have seen thus far in the season — including what was a 10-game, now 11 game losing streak.
To be fair to the franchise, the Islanders have not prevented Mr. Botta from writing on his blog according to team spokesman Kimber Auerbach. What has happened is that Mr. Botta’s press credentials were pulled — banning him from access to players, management and all games in a press/media capacity. He can go to a game — but he would have to buy a ticket like the rest of us. The Hockey Writers Association is protesting the move. Part of Mr. Botta’s appeal as a blogger was his former connection to the franchise, leveraging his credentials, as well as his relationships around the Islanders, and the hockey world.
What is terribly troubling here is that this is another example of the childish behavior or a management team, and an owner that does not have the ability to properly run a business — in this case a sports franchise. The pulling of credentials of one of the few day-to-day bloggers/reporters of the franchise because of what team management believes to be unfavorable accounts of the franchise represents what is the paranoia, fear and child like behavior of Charles Wang. This comes shortly after Billy Jaffe was not granted his contract to continue as a commentator for MSG reportedly because the Islanders brass felt Mr. Jaffe was offering to many unfavorable reviews of team performance. The same exact fate was bestowed upon Joe Micheletti, who held the commentator position prior to Billy Jaffe’s hiring.
This kind of silly behavior from a grown man in a public endeavor like an NHL franchise is staggering. The idea that a reporter is prevented access from covering the team because of a truthful account — even if it is unfavorable — is comical at best, and extremely sad at worst. Clearly, that is not the American way, and cuts against the idea of freedom of speech. This is akin to the current White House administration banning reporters from Fox News because they don’t share the slant Fox has on its station — or conversely, when President Bush was in office, his administration banning MSNBC because he did not like their coverage.
The sad truth is the Islanders are now on the verge of utter collapse. As a fan since the franchises earliest days, through the glory of four consecutive championships, the brief re-birth of the early 1990s, the devastating days of Mike Milbury, and now the paranoia and questionable mind of an owner who’s viability I must call into question — lets just say — it is becoming increasingly easy to walk away from the team — adopting a who cares attitude.
I am not the only one.
The Islander faithful are responding to the franchise in an appropriate manner. Last nights game had one of the worst attendance results in team history. Less then half of the arena was filled with spectators. When you mishandle and abuse your product and abuse your customers, they will respond by abandoning your product and service. In speaking with a fellow fan and friend yesterday, I was surprised to hear his own indifference, and malaise toward the team as a whole. Mr. Wang has had to severely reduce ticket prices using “special” offers and promotions to try to get fans to the games. The response has been overwhelmingly poor. At this rate, Mr. Wang will long for the days where there were 8,000 fans in the building.
The Islanders as a hockey team can be viable. The franchise can become a profitable entity. But we fans are kind of fickle. We want to be able to participate as spectators and watch our team have some kind of success. But to spend on average a few hundred dollars on a game where the arena is crumbling, the food is horrible and over-priced and the on ice product has a better then 70% chance of failing on the ice makes little sense.
I support rebuilding the team on the ice. But at some point some improvement needs to be seen — even during the rebuilding of the franchise. Someone posted a response to my last post, suggesting the team should not be any better. Ultimately, while I would not have put this team in the playoffs by any means — I was not prepared to suggest it was impossible or out of the question. Injuries have been a problem — again. What is perhaps a larger problem however — and my overall point — the youth on the team have seemingly regressed. While John Tavares had a better game last night, he has struggled this year. Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau look flat and uninspired. Rob Schremp looked ineffective in the few games he has played thus far. The hunger and drive of the players seems to be non-existent. In addition, the line combination make little sense and are almost set up to fail rather then succeed. Barry Melrose, on his most recent podcast with EJ Hradek commented on the Islanders recent woes. When asked about the draft and rebuilding, Melrose added that the Islanders have drafted well but they are still missing that super star quality player. He likes Bailey, Okposo, Tavares, Neilsen, Streit and some others, but that “Crosby” like player is still missing.
Ultimately, the franchise is a reflection of its management. I am not ready to condemn Garth Snow as a failure. He has done what he is supposed to do at the draft. He has a tough job in convincing free agents to come to Long Island for many reasons. Charles Wang is just another reason. No one wants to work for a boss that has a history of behaving as a man child with delusions of grandeur. That reason may be bigger then the condition of the arena or question marks surrounding the future home of the team. Convincing other GMs to consider trades is yet another issue. If Snow can work out a deal, it may cost the team a valuable young player — especially if the player coming to the Islanders is under a longer term contract. As an example, James Wisniewski was acquired in a deal on the cheap because he will be a UFA and he was a salary dump for the Ducks. But can the Isles retain him after the year. I have serious doubts. Others have doubts of the ability of the Islanders to retain players like Tavares and Okposo if they continue with their current state of disarray.
It might be harsh to suggest it, but the ultimate fate with the New York Islanders begins and ends with an owner that is unstable. The franchise will not have any chance of success under this owner unless he decided to become completely hands off — which we know wont happen — or sells the franchise. All of the talk of Wang keeping the franchise on Long Island rings very hollow today. Being a fan of a sports team is supposed to be pleasurable, fun, exciting, and entertaining. I don’t know a single Islander fan who exhibits any of these feelings. So what is the good of an Islander team with Charles Wang as the owner on Long Island vs. an Islander team purchased by another entity such as Jim Balsillie and moving the franchise to Hamilton, Ontario and naming it something else? Frankly, I would still follow that team. Would you?
Filed Under: New York Islanders
About the Author: A graphic designer who loves the game....and knows that age has slowed him down — but the passion is there. Islanders fan since the 70s, Dad, Husband and Coach of the Flying Tiger's Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: http://twitter.com/FilamentDesigns