The Charles Wang era as the New York Islanders majority owner ended when Tampa Bay eliminated his club from the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Sunday. Wang somehow kept his team in the New York area despite a horrible lease at the Nassau Coliseum, politicians unwilling to play ball with him in building an arena-village and a Nassau County citizenship that was uninterested in funding a new building for his team.
In the 1960s, Nassau County politicians decided to put an arena in an old air force base. The American Basketball Association found a buyer for the New Jersey Americans in Roy Boe who took his team to Long Island and eventually would get a lease with Nassau County. Boe then did the National Hockey League a big favor by buying an expansion team in 1971 to keep the rival World Hockey Association out of the New York market and competing with Madison Square Garden’s New York Rangers. Boe moved his ABA team into the NBA in 1976 and Madison Square Garden repaid him by demanding a ransom for invading Knicks territory.
Boe couldn’t afford the merger fee and the Garden’s demands and sold off his best player Julius Erving to the Philadelphia 76ers for $3 million. He sold the basketball team to New Jersey interests and nearly sunk his hockey team. John Pickett rescued the hockey team but made some really bad decisions. He signed an awful 30-year lease in 1985. Pickett also had a pair of con artists as partners and sold the team to a crook, John Spano who had no money. Eventually, Pickett sold the team to the Millstein brothers, New York City realtors who saw the team as a way to seize and develop the 77-acre Nassau Coliseum property. The Millsteins failed and Wang bought the team. Wang did have a large TV deal which helped. Wang moved to Brooklyn and sold his team. The saga of the Islanders is worthy of a Wharton case study.
By Evan Weiner for The Politics of Sports Business.