“They’re selling these?”
That’s the first thing I overheard on Saturday night as I approached the seating bowl on the west side of Barclays Center, hours before the puck dropped in the arena’s first-ever hockey game — a preseason matchup between the Islanders and Devils. I'd soon be thinking the same thing as the arena worker who said it: Views of one of the nets are obstructed from these lower-levels sections just behind the goal, where three rows form an overhang that ends just above the glass. From the third of these three rows, not only can one not see the near goal, but one can’t see anything below the face-off dots in the near zone. The upper-level sections behind this goal on the west end of the arena aren't much better, offering similarly poor sightlines where one can’t see the net itself. In two years, the Islanders will call this arena home. No significant changes to the seating bowl are planned before then.
Here’s the thing about watching a hockey game at Barclays Center: From most of the seats in the arena, the sightlines are fine. The east end of the arena wraps around the boards the way it would in any modern hockey arena, and clear views of the rink can be had on the north and south sides of the ice as well. The fact that the center-hung scoreboard hangs above one of the blue lines can be forgiven, because ultimately no one goes to a hockey game to watch a scoreboard. This asymmetrical arrangement is necessary because the arena was built with the smaller dimensions of a basketball court in mind. But the result is hundreds of seats on the west side of the arena with obstructed views.
“They’re terrible,” said Natalie Lanning of Remsenburg, who took her 11-year-old son to the game only to find out they couldn’t see one of the nets or much of the near zone from their seats in section 1, behind the west goal. Lanning’s ticket was labeled as “limited view,” but she says she was told by a Ticketmaster representative that her view would be fine. When she realized how poor the view was, she tried to exchange her $20 tickets at the Barclays Center box office, to no avail. She says had she known just how limited her view would be, she would have bought tickets in one of the upper sections with a clearer view.
Joe Swicicki of Levittown attended the game with his wife and 11-year-old nephew and had similar issues with his upper-level view, above the west goal. “They shouldn’t sell tickets up here,” said Swicicki. “I didn’t know it would be this bad. They need to do something about it.”
But on a press tour of the building’s hockey configuration last week, Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark said that no such changes were planned. In other words, the views Saturday night will be the views in 2015, when the Islanders move to Brooklyn.
Last year, when the Islanders were scheduled to play the Devils in a preseason game at Barclays, the seating chart for the game showed that most seats on the west end of the arena wouldn’t be sold, thus giving the hockey seating bowl a sort of horseshoe shape. (That game was never played because of the NHL lockout.) And when the Islanders announced plans to move into Barclays last year, they said the arena’s hockey capacity was at 14,500 but could possibly be bumped up to 15,000 or "15,000 plus." The official hockey capacity is now 15,813. But no major renovations took place; the arena simply decided to sell the obstructed-view seats. It’s not false advertising — the seats are labeled as “limited view,” and they’re less expensive than they’d otherwise be — but the arena doesn’t exactly broadcast the fact that the west end of the arena is far from ideal for hockey. (A Barclays Center spokesperson didn't immediately respond to a question about the decision to sell these seats or a request for a chart of the 416 seats in the hockey configuration that Yormark said last week wouldn't be offered for sale because of sightline issues.)
When Barclays officials talk about how the sightlines are great for hockey, they mean everywhere but the west end of the arena. To be sure, there were thousands of fans at Barclays on Saturday who should have had no complaints about their view. But sightlines wrapping from corner to corner behind the west net are problematic, and that’s not an insignificant number of seats. It’s hard to imagine Barclays would sell tickets to a Nets game where one of the baskets wasn’t visible, particularly while boasting about the sightlines and “intimate” environment. American hockey fans already have a bit of a complex, and even those who don’t give such things much thought can tell when the sport is being slighted. The Barclays hockey configuration will make it hard to consider the Islanders anything other than second-class citizens in their own building once they move to Kings County. It’d be one thing for such a funky configuration to exist in an old arena. But this one opened in 2012. Either its owners were shortsighted — the Islanders had made it known they wouldn’t continue to play in the Nassau Coliseum beyond their lease without major renovations — or they didn’t much care about properly accommodating a hockey team.
Then again, there’s another way of looking at the existence of so many obstructed-view seats. Lou Vitale, a longtime Islanders fan from the Upper East Side who sat in the upper level behind the west goal on Saturday night, said the view from those seats was “the one flaw” in an otherwise state-of-the-art building. He wasn’t as down about the view as some other fans, explaining that his tickets were cheaper — he paid $20 for a $14.50 ticket outside the arena — and at least got him in the door. If such seats weren't offered for sale, such thinking goes, there’d be fewer opportunities to get in at all.
Vitale says his travel time to Barclays is 40 minutes, much shorter than it is to Nassau Coliseum. And when the Isles move in 2015, he intends to be there.
“I’m gonna get some season tickets,” he said Saturday from his limited-view upper-level seat. “But they won’t be here. I guarantee that.”