By ANDREW HUGHES
Nassau Coliseum is set to reopen its doors on April 5 with a performance by Long Island native Billie Joel after a renovation that has been in the works since November 2015.
Joel, who performed at the final event at the old coliseum in August 2015, will be followed during the opening week by artists ranging from Stevie Nicks to Marc Anthony. The arena will host the final show of the fabled Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus on May 21.
After that though?
That is the $89 million question–the amount it cost taxpayers to renovate the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
At the same time, fans no longer have the New York Islanders hockey team to cheer for—they’ve played in Barclays Center since 2015. They are left with the Long Island Nets, the Brooklyn Nets’ development team that plays in the recently re-branded G-League (the “G” coming from the league’s new sponsor, Gatorade).
The Long Island Nets have been playing home games at Barclays Center so far this season and the attendance has been underwhelming. to say the least. The team’s home opener game saw just 1,298 fans, while its Nov. 27 contest against the Grand Rapids Drive saw the most fans ever in attendance–1,377.
The new Nassau Coliseum will hold approximately 13,000 people, raising the prospect of an empty arena. Still, team officials say they believe the Coliseum will draw fans for the Long Island Nets.
“Once word of mouth gets around about how affordable and family friendly Long Island Nets games are people will be filling up the stands,” said Mandy Gutmann, senior director at Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, which controls the two teams and markets Barclays Center and the Coliseum.
Having the inaugural season for the Long Island Nets in Brooklyn may have been a questionable move, but team Vice President Alton Byrd sounded a little more optimistic.
“While we are moving to Long Island, we are delighted to have developed our fan base in Brooklyn and we are grateful to have had the opportunity to play at Barclays Center,” said Byrd.
A general admission ticket to the Long Island Nets games at Barclays Center costs just $15, but even so, the “fan base” appears to be a small one.
Long Island and Queens fans can reach Barclays Center via the he Long Island Rail Road, but the LIRR does not have a stop in Uniondale, where the Coliseum is located. Plans for one were canceled.
That did not stop customers from going to the Coliseum before, generally by car. While the Long Island Nets seem unlikely to draw large crowds, the arena should be able to draw people on the strength of an impressive schedule of musical acts.
Metallica will be playing there despite the fact that the rest of the shows on its tour will be held in large football stadiums.
But without the presence of a major professional sports team, it will be an uphill climb for the new Coliseum to make a profit. In 2015, the Nassau Coliseum’s operator owed $6 million to the county. That was with a professional sports team able to fill up at least half of the arena. The new arena will hold fewer seats for concerts. The Coliseum will be open once again, but the question to be answered is: To whom?
Photo: The new Nassau Coliseum is set to open April 5. (NassauCountyNY.gov)