The Vegas Golden Knights are doing all the right things lately. They held a 24-hour open house at T-Mobile Arena on Feb. 21, and by all accounts it was a smashing success. 9,000-plus fans turned in throughout the day. There were free ticket giveaways, shooting cages, and most noteworthy, a gong.
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) February 22, 2017
Truly, it was the best kind of gong show.
As written/wildly speculated in my previous column, the Knights will officially be sitting the sitting out the 2016-17 trade deadline. Really, there wasn’t a ton that Vegas could do anyway. They have no players, and a convoluted deal for a draft pick would not have set The Strip on fire. Any deadline activity would be mostly for PR purposes, and would truthfully be small potatoes, since the Knights already made their big PR-splash.
The Vegas Golden Knights have officially acquired a #1 fan: baseball wunderkind Bryce Harper. If the Knights are looking for a face for their infant franchise, they could do a lot worse than the 500 million dollar man.
Bryce Harper: Face of the Vegas Franchise?
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) February 11, 2017
Now admittedly, “Face of the franchise” might be a little lofty, due to the fact that Bryce Harper is a baseball player and the Knights are indeed a hockey team. But Bryce Harper is a big get for Las Vegas. A 24 year old superstar athlete, Harper’s next contract will be a transcendent sports story over the next two years. Harper is expected to sign his next contract for over $500 million, an absurd, unprecedented amount of money. Bryce Harper’s mere presence around this team could be a huge boost to the Las Vegas hockey scene.
Harper is, in addition, a Las Vegas local and high-school sports icon in the area. He recently bought a $2.7 million mansion there, and hence will likely be spending at least some of his free time in Vegas. He is also fully on the Vegas Golden Knights bandwagon.
“When we were able to get the Golden Knights into Vegas, my first thought was ‘I can’t wait.’ To be able to support a team from the Las Vegas area. What a better place to have a hockey team. Just a great city.”
Vegas as a Sports Market
Much has been said about how hard it will be for the NHL to make an impact in Las Vegas; living in the shadow of countless casinos, concerts, and Siegfried and Roy. The amount of pure stimuli competing for fans’ attention is overwhelming. Consequently, not enough as been written about just how badly Las Vegas wants a professional sports team. They are ready for it, and they are hungry for it.
For example, consider this quote about Vegas losing their Las Vegas Outlaws XFL team, via ESPN’s excellent 30 for 30 documentary This Was The XFL:
“I felt betrayed [when they left], and everyone else around me felt the same way. There was a professional organization finally in Las Vegas that worked. It embraced its culture. It felt wrong that they were taking this team away from us.”
That quote is from Chemish Fisher. I don’t know who Chemish Fisher is either (he was labeled only as “Fan, Las Vegas”) but his point is interesting. A quick Google search reveals a ton of pieces begging for Vegas to get a chance, many from actual newspapers and legitimate sports sites. While hockey isn’t intuitive to the desert, Vegas certainly has the population to make it work. Las Vegas and the surrounding area is home to almost two million people. Just for comparison’s sake: the Nashville market is almost 1.95 million people deep , Calgary almost 1.4 million, Edmonton 1.3 million, Winnipeg 770,000, and Buffalo about 1.13 million depending on where you want to slice the pie up.
Embracing the Culture
One part of that previous quote stands out in particular is, “It embraced its culture”. Vegas fans were proud of their Las Vegas Outlaws; they identified with that team. The Vegas Golden Knights are attempting to achieve the same thing, albeit in a different way.
The city of Las Vegas has something of a salacious reputation. The XFL didn’t mind, as it was both OK with sleaziness and intent on being as sleazy as possible. The NHL is a family product, though, especially in 2017. Fighting is way down, dirty hits are down, and referees hardly even get slashed anymore. How do you embrace a culture you don’t want to associate with? Where is the line between good wholesome Las Vegas fun, and seedy Vegas shenanigans?
Embracing Vegas’ favorite son would be a fine start.
Things to know about @Bharper3407.
*He shoots left-handed.
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) February 12, 2017
Harper isn’t exactly Michael Jordan in terms of fame, but as much as that’s true, he’s not Dennis Rodman either. Harper is (at this point in his career) a young, wholesome star who projects a very nice image. Stars will emerge on the ice on the ice for the Knights, but until they do, the Knights would be wise to make sure there are a few stars in the stands.
The Golden Knights have done very well to craft their identity in their infancy. They are doing good, nice, pleasant things.
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) February 24, 2017
Las Vegas is absolutely 100% ready to support professional sports. This is especially relevant because the sport of hockey is not exactly running though the veins of the people of Las Vegas, like it is in Winnipeg (or Quebec). Time will tell if Las Vegas will support the good ole hockey game, but with people like Bryce Harper on board, the odds might drastically improve.