New York Islanders strike major arena naming rights deal with UBS

The National Hockey League’s New York Islanders have spent essentially two full generations essentially in franchise limbo, not really knowing what their long-term future is amid multiple ownership shifts over the years and a long litany of facility issues at both the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island and Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

But thanks to a newly announced 20-year naming rights deal with Swiss-based financial services giant UBS Group AG, said by industry sources to be worth at least $350m over the full term, for the team’s forthcoming arena in Elmont, New York, the Islanders have made another major step toward solidifying that future and doing much more than merely surviving. 

The club, UBS, and venue developer Oak View group announced the deal, which will brand the $1.5bn building UBS Arena and have pave the way for its planned opening in the fall of 2021. The privately financed arena project, located adjacent to Belmont Racetrack that is home to horse racing’s Belmont Stakes, will be joined by an ambitious mixed-use development also involving Oak View.

“[This agreement] affirms our timetable, the quality and certainty of this incredible new arena,” said Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky. “This project is going to help reinvigorate the New York economy at this difficult time. It’s going to be a beacon of strength for the local community and our fans. For 40 years, we’ve been seeking a great new home and now we’ll have it, a new home that takes the best of the Coliseum, its intimacy, the wonderful energy that comes into that building.

“This also erases the narrative that players aren’t going to want to play for the Islanders, as we will be a destination,” Ledecky said.

Added NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who in his 27 years leading the league has perhaps more than anyone else in the industry seen the Islanders’ long-term turmoil up close, “What this also represents is just another indication to the people of New York, particularly Islanders fans that all of the uncertainty that has particularly surrounded this franchise over the last couple of decades, it should only now be a topic of conversation in perhaps an historical retrospective. This team, its ownership, its business partners, its arena, named after a great company, are going to have as bright a future as any franchise in sports.”

For Oak View Group, the Islanders-UBS agreement represents the second major naming rights deal they have brokered in less than a month, following a more than $300m deal in Seattle, Washington, for the forthcoming NHL expansion club there. 

The UBS agreement, representing yet another major financial services company buying facility naming rights, on the surface represents a much more conventional naming rights accord than the Seattle deal. That pact in Washington state will create what will be known as Climate Pledge Arena as online retail and streaming video giant Amazon seeks to use the arena naming rights there to spotlight climate change and the need for renewable energy.

But Tim Leiweke, Oak View Group chief executive, said many the core operational and corporate concepts from the Seattle deal such as environmental awareness, carbon neutrality, and active philanthropy will also be present at UBS Arena and the naming rights deal.

“It’s a lot of about the three S’s for us everywhere: service, sustainability, and sanitization,” he said, referring in part to enhanced arena cleaning protocols now essential in the age of Covid-19.

“There really is no customary naming rights deal, but you will definitely see UBS be very active in the New York community,” he said.

Both the pacts for UBS Arena and Climate Pledge Arena, each generating more than $15m per year, more than triple the typical naming rights values for other NHL-only venues on an annual basis.

The Islanders and Oak View also intend for UBS Arena to be a significant venue for concert tours, with design optimized in several ways for music event logistics, and the venue will be actively battling Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, the Barclays Center, and the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, for New York-area bookings.

The UBS agreement for the Islanders was well along in development prior to the outbreak of Covid-19 across the United States this past spring, and had been in serious negotiations since last fall. But Leiweke said that instead of retreating at virus case rates spread, the company “had big ideas, doubled down instead of retreating, and saw an opportunity.”

UBS executives similarly said they enthused to be able to expand their presence in the New York market, which is the company’s US headquarters and the heaviest concentration of American employees and clients. UBS has made some sponsorship buys, particularly within Europe and in Formula One. But the company traditionally has not been an active player within US sports and entertainment.

“To be able to partner with the New York Islanders, which have a great tradition of excellence, and the Oak View Group is simply a super opportunity for us,” said Tim Naratil, co-president of UBS Global Wealth Management. 

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