Horseshoe seating for hockey puts Barclays on thin ice

Horseshoe seating for hockey puts Barclays on thin ice
File photo by Stefano Giovannini

The Barclays Center will debut an unconventional horseshoe-shaped seating configuration for a preseason hockey game this fall — raising questions about whether the undersized arena could truly accommodate an NHL franchise.

A dozen sections behind one of the goals will be closed off when the Islanders take on the hated New Jersey Devils on Oct. 2, according to a seating chart that shows what hockey might look like in a $1-billion arena that would be the smallest stadium in the National Hockey League and the only arena without wrap-around seating.

The Islanders are in the hunt for a new home when its lease at the Nassau Coliseum ends in 2015 — but the team could be forced to relocate sooner if an asbestos cleanup at the remote, 40-year-old venue stretches beyond the start of the hockey season this fall.

A deal with the league requires the Islanders to play on Long Island, which includes Brooklyn at its western tip. But a move to the future home of the Brooklyn Nets is anything but a sure shot, considering the 18,000-seat Barclays Center can only fit 14,500 fans during hockey games — and none behind one of the goals.

Still, some sports experts say the under-construction arena on Flatbush and Atlantic avenues remains the leading option for the squad, claiming the cramped quarters and odd seating arrangement may benefit a team that only averaged 11,000 spectators per game last year.

“It eliminates some very viable seats especially in the lower half of the venue,” said Ray Katz, a managing partner of Source1 Sports and a Flatbush native who teaches sports management at Columbia University. “But it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for that team to have limited seating. It would still be a great thing for Brooklyn.”

The team could even turn lemons into iced lemonade by using some of the arena’s dead space to sell ads and merchandise, Katz said.

“There’s other ways to generate revenue from that side of the arena,” said Katz.

The horseshoe-shaped seating configuration might make the stadium look empty on TV — and its effects could be felt on the ice as well.

During games, one goalie would face fans across the rink while the other would look out onto an empty space behind the opposing net — similar to the center field backdrop in baseball — that could cut down on distractions, said sports consultant Michael Neuman.

“They’ll have to deal with any limitations the Barclays Center has,” said Neuman, the managing partner of Scout Sports and Entertainment, a consulting agency.

Nets spokesman Barry Baum confirmed the seating arrangement, but declined to provide further details.

“We have to see how all the sight lines are and then we’ll move forward,” Baum said.

Arena developer Bruce Ratner has long courted the Islanders. Hockey was originally considered for the arena but the plans were scuttled after Barclays Center starchitect Frank Gehry was fired in 2009 and his proposed design was scraped in an attempt to cut costs.

In January, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said he found it hard to believe that a deal couldn’t be hammered out to keep the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. But last month Bettman told the AP that the Barclays Center is a viable alternative.

Reach reporter Daniel Bush at dbush@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow him at twitter.com/dan_bush.

Horseshoe arena: The Barclays Center’s seating chart for the Islanders vs. Devils preseason game shows a horseshoe configuration where thousands of seats would be off-limits.