“These are the suite seats…and they are sweet seats.”
A punny one-liner from Islanders owner Jon Ledecky, sure, but he wasn’t wrong: the suite seats were sweet, and will be sweet, when they’re in the suite.
The suites, that is, at the under-construction UBS Arena at Belmont Park, which is scheduled to open as the Isles’ new home for the 2021-22 NHL season. Located right outside the gates of the famous racetrack, the tagline for the new venue is “built for hockey, made for music,” and while the main tenant will be the team our own Steve Somers refers as the “Icelanders,” the arena is optimally built for both sports (ice ones, specifically) and entertainment.
It’s also built with fans in mind, which is what WFAN got an exclusive look at on Friday night at what the team is calling the “Preview Club,” a space in Manhattan’s Flatiron District where the team has built replications of what many of the suites will look like at UBS Arena, complete with food and drink options, team and musical memorabilia – including replicas of all four Stanley Cups the Islanders won in the 1980s – and the piece de resistance: a full-scale model of the new digs.
“Show ‘em around, Mike, show ‘em all this great stuff!” Ledecky told Mike Cosentino, the team’s SVP of sales, as Cosentino prepared to explain the amenities of UBS Arena via the model to WFAN and a handful of other select potential suitors.
And amenities, they are. The new arena will have 56 suites, 38 of which will be on the normal “suite level” with the rest close to the ice – all with access to various swanky club settings. The arena proper has eight bars, several standing areas, more restrooms and concessions, and, according to Ledecky, “the perfect pitch” when it comes to the seating area not just arena-wide, but specifically in what will be the largest lower bowl of any arena in the NHL, and the Tri-State Area.
“Jon was worried about wait times at concessions and the experience in the bowl, and replicating that from The Barn, and we also wanted it to be the most unique experience a fan can get when they choose to see a music event here,” said Tim Leiweke, the CEO of Oak View Group, the Isles’ 50/50 partner in the arena venture. “It truly is the best of both worlds in all respects. We don’t have the burden of running the team, but we know our partners are focused on making the fan experience as great as possible.”
That fan experience in the suites is going to be something for sure; while the Preview Club is meant to entice the “high-rollers,” so to speak, full food and beverage options range from sushi and top-shelf liquor to those who just want a burger and fries and an ice cold beer.
No corners cut anywhere, because as Ledecky said, “do it right the first time.”
Doing it right includes outdoor areas around what will eventually be a high-end retail and boutique hotel complex, bars that will be open well before and well after the games – “they’re gonna keep you hanging out,” one staffer smiled – and accessibility to both railroad terminals, as well as Long Island, via a new LIRR station that will be roughly 30 minutes from both Penn and Grand Central Stations.
And for the fans not in the suites? The experience is just as good if not better, based on the arena amenities – including the outdoor terraces, the low roof modeled after that at the Nassau Coliseum, and the location of the section for the beloved “Blue & Orange Army.”
“This section is in the 200 level technically, but we’re calling it Section 329 because that’s their section,” Cosentino said, pointing to the level right behind the goal the Isles will shoot at twice that will house the most die-hard of die-hards. “They’re really going to set the tone for the arena.”
Ledecky’s rep as a “fans’ owner” isn’t just a line, his decision to spend the last few home games of the 2019-20 NHL season roaming around Nassau Coliseum concourses meeting and greeting the Isles Army, taking photos and handing out swag and just immersing himself in what the fans wanted in their team, and their new arena, not just a survey.
He is just as immersed in his team and the fan experience as any, as witnessed by WFAN during a viewing of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final; from a somewhat quizzical “what’s up with Cizikas?” (Casey Cizikas missed Game 3 due to injury), to fist pumps every time the Isles scored (and consternation when goals went in for the other side), to the same discussions any fan would have about Tyler Johnson’s second-period goal that was reviewed for potentially coming off a high-stick redirect, he’s right there in the thick of it.
Ledecky lives and dies with the team he and former Harvard roommate Scott Malkin agreed to purchase in 2014, and he has shepherded from the ol’ Barn to Barclays and now to Belmont. And, when Brock Nelson scored with just under four minutes left to put the Isles up 4-3, and then JG Pageau added an empty-netter to cement the 5-3 score, Ledecky beamed as if his own children had done so – and was equally as upset seeing Pageau get slashed on the breakaway empty net goal.
“Where did he get him? What’s up with that?” he bellowed, before moments later smiling and saying, “well, 2-1 now, we’ll get ‘em Sunday!”
Even visible in an explanation when one guest, asking about the playoff scenarios, was reminded by a staffer that a 3-0 deficit has only been overcome four times in NHL history in a best-of-seven series.
“But one was by the Islanders!” Ledecky beamed, remembering the Isles’ epic comeback in the 1975 playoffs against Pittsburgh – which happened when Ledecky was still in high school in Connecticut, long before he even had visions of owning the team he clearly loves.
Truly, ensuring a second-to-none experience for every fan was put into the thought process behind UBS Arena, and based on no expense being spared with the Preview Club, it’s clear no expense was, or will be, spared when it comes to the arena itself.
“(Isles co-owner) Scott Malkin was pretty genius when we were talking about this – we had a completely fresh piece of clay to do it right, and that’s our goal,” Leiweke said.
From the looks of it? Mission in the process of being accomplished.