NEW YORK -- Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark's credo is to be happy but never satisfied. For all the work he's done to help lifelong New York Islanders fans get to their new arena, Yormark must add some Brooklyn flavor to a marketing recipe designed to create a foothold in the borough.
"I'm excited about the early returns, but we have more work to do," Yormark said. "I'm happy with the move, the team is off to a great start, the fans have been supporting the team, but we can do more. We can grow the base and we will."
The Islanders took a big step in their grassroots effort to grow their brand in Brooklyn on Tuesday when defenseman Nick Leddy became their first player to appear at a community event since they relocated from Long Island to begin the 2015-16 NHL season.
Nick Leddy taught kids from Brooklyn a bit about hockey Tuesday as part of the New York Islanders' ongoing efforts to attract new fans in the borough.
Leddy taught hockey fundamentals to local children through a program offered by the nonprofit City Parks Foundation. The clinic was the final event of a six-week course that offered free street hockey instruction to children ages 8-12. Each child who attended the session with Leddy on Tuesday was given a voucher for three tickets to the Islanders game against the Florida Panthers on Dec. 15.
His students donning the Islanders' new black-and-white third jersey, Leddy displayed the art of puck-handling and shooting, and even played goalie while children were put through individual drills.
"It's good to get out in the community, but it's also great to teach kids a new sport," Leddy said. "It's a sport that I love and all of us hockey players love and can teach them. When there's great events like this, it's easy and fun to come out to."
The City Parks Foundation offers programs in parks throughout New York City's five boroughs as part of a collaborative effort with the Islanders and Barclays Center.
Most of the kids participating Tuesday were residents of Brooklyn's Sunset Park neighborhood, and many of them had never picked up a hockey stick before the program began in October. They were shown first how to play on the street with the intent of eventually graduating them to the ice.
"As a pilot, it was perfect," City Parks Foundation executive director Heather Lubov said.
Since the move to Brooklyn, Yormark has preserved elements of Islanders history to help entice Long Islanders accustomed to a short drive to Nassau Coliseum to utilize the Long Island Rail Road to attend games at Barclays Center.
But with the old comes an infusion of the new, and that involves grabbing the attention of Brooklynites. The borough has long been a basketball and handball hotbed; with the introduction of hockey this season, educating a new fan base on the nuances of the sport is an important step.
"Bringing a team to Brooklyn is terrific, and the fans are supporting the team, but we have to get to the grassroots level," Yormark said. "We need kids not just to grow up on basketball, but to grow up on hockey. We do that by taking the sport to where the kids are, and partnering with City Parks, and putting on weekly clinics is certainly a first step for us.
"For me, it's getting them to participate in the sport and then hopefully go sample it live. When I asked the 50-plus kids here if they had been to the Barclays Center, all of them had said 'yes,' but they haven't been there for a hockey game yet. So the goal is for them to tell their moms and their dads, 'Take me there to see the New York Islanders.' That's how we'll build the fan base, and these are the future fans of the team."
Yormark has donated as many as 100 tickets for the borough to give out to young people to help them get their first taste of hockey.
Borough President Eric L. Adams believes once you experience a live game, you're hooked.
"It really goes to show you that the Islanders are making Brooklyn their new, adopted home and they're willing to do something to engage with the community," Adams said. "If we want to get the children to get exposed to the game, they need to identify with their new heroes wearing skates."