Ray Negron's Playball Weekly Blog

Islanders, new UBS Arena, give fans millions of reasons to turn out

While I will never be able to downplay the majesty and grandeur of Yankees Stadium as I enter my 50th year with the team, this past week I was treated to a first time visit to another new palace of sports in the New York area, and its home team gave us all a million reasons to celebrate.

The building is UBS Arena, the home of the New York Islanders, and with its state of the art amenities, fan friendly tech and world class food, not to mention the trailblazing retail consumer experience “Isles Lab,” it is becoming a “must visit” for fans of any age, regardless of whether they are Islanders fans or not (and soon you will be able to take the Long Island Railroad to UBS from Grand Central Station, making it even easier for fans from Manhattan to check the building in Elmont, NY out).

However in addition to all of the bells and whistles, we were there for a Tuesday night game against the Dallas Stars for another key moment in the 50 year history of the Islanders, as they welcomed their millionth fan to the building already. The building’s data driven ticket tracking system was able to identify a fan in real time as she and her family came into the building just after 6:30 and surprise her with a band, visits from team co-owner Jon Ledecky, and a massive prize package.

Jennifer Belechto of Long Island, a first time visitor to UBS, was the lucky fan. “I’m a little bit in shock,” the mother of two said. “We’re excited and we walked into this. So, it’s even more exciting, right?”

The Islanders gifted them a $5,000 shopping spree at the Isles Lab team store, 1,000 MegaMillions lottery tickets, a team-signed jersey; a custom made one millionth fan jersey, free beer for a year, a Bose speaker, Clyde May’s Whisky Prize pack, a $500 Arctix gift card, an Ilegal Mezcal Prize pack, a bartender tool kit, two invitations to their Alumni Night dinner, two Spotlight Club tickets for a future game this season, two UBS Club tickets for a future game this season and 50 single-game tickets to be donated to a charity of the Belechto’s choice. They also got to sit with Ledecky in his private box.

As far as ownership goes, Ledecky is a fan-first guy, reminiscent of the time I spent with George Steinbrenner in the past. He spends the game visiting and listening to everyone, and Tuesday night was no exception for the carefully thought out plan.

“We knew we were coming up on the millionth fan during the [Christmas] break, and so we tried to plan for it,” he said. “You don’t know who’s going to be walking through. Is it going to be a fan? Is it going to be a family? Is there going to be somebody who’s rooting for the Dallas Stars? You’re just crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. The fact that we [have] a family to me is so indicative of the strength of our fan base. We’re all about family here at UBS Arena, and the Islanders are a family. So, it’s great that these four folks showed up from Islip [as] lifelong Islanders fans.”

Now New Yorkers are a cynical lot, but anyone…everyone…who comes to UBS raves about it and will probably be back. It is a building, and an ownership group, that truly appreciates and understands their core fan base, and is always finding ways to make sure their discretionary dollars are being put to valuable use from the minute they walk in the door. The days of the old Nassau Coliseum, or the Islanders brief stop at Barclays Center, are a distant memory. What is not forgotten is fan loyalty and what has made the Islanders special, and now they have a special, first class, venue to treat their fans to.

It was a night of a million memories and experiences, and we can’t wait to come back with friends soon.

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