Almost one year ago the NHL expansion Vegas Golden Knights won their first home opener, 5-2, over Arizona with a T-Mobile Arena sellout crowd of 18,191. It was an emotional game for a variety of reasons. The Knights became the first NHL expansion team to win its first three games. It was not just the team’s first home game ever but came a week after the tragic shooting at a concert outside Mandalay Bay just down the street.
It was an unforgettable night for the community. Just as important, the NHL fan interest never stopped. On StubHub, a ticket resale site, Vegas was the top-selling NHL team during the 2017-18 season. The Knights won more than 50 games, a new record for an expansion squad, and took the Pacific Division title. By the time the playoffs were rolling, Vegas already sold out its season tickets for the 2018-19 campaign.
And for the second year in a row, the Golden Knights are again the top-selling team on StubHub, surpassing the second-place Toronto Maple Leafs in hockey-mad Canada by over 25%. Even the preseason opener two weeks ago against Arizona drew a sellout.
Some questioned about the location, trying to build a hockey fan base in the desert where there is only a light sprinkling of snow about once every seven years. In addition, Las Vegas had never had a professional sports team before. Yet, even before they had played a game the Golden Knights were one of the highest grossing teams in the NHL in terms of annual ticket revenue. And that was with an opening average ticket price of $88, roughly $15 more than the NHL average.
The first-year results on the ice exceeded all expectations. Sure, getting to the Stanley Cup Final will fire up a fan base, but it takes more than that: consistency, a commitment to winning, and connecting with the community.
Building a Winning Team Via Defense
Before their inaugural season, Vegas management decided to build the organization with an emphasis on defense, such as picking three-time championship winning goaltender Marc Andre-Fleury from Pittsburgh in the lottery, along with defensemen Nate Schmidt and Deryk Engelland. Some hockey fans may prefer 6-5 offensive shootouts, but consistent winning in all sports is anchored by a strong defense.
The team connects off the ice with locals, as well. The Golden Knights Foundation serves as charitable link between the team and the Las Vegas community supporting non-profits. Following the October 2017 tragedy, Vegas players such as center Jonathan Marchessault, Schmidt and Engelland visited the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department headquarters, United Blood Services, and a family assistance center that was set up at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Positioning doesn’t hurt, either — for your arena. The Golden Knights play at the T-Mobile Arena, which was privately funded and opened in 2016. It is located on the famous Las Vegas strip, surrounded on three sides by the MGM Grand, the New York-New York casino, and the Park MGM (formerly Monte Carlo). Just 1,500 feet away they’re currently building the new Las Vegas Raiders NFL stadium, with play commencing in August of 2020. So the T-Mobile Arena is situated at the heart of the city’s hotel, entertainment, and pro sports venues. Which means before and after attending an NHL game there are endless dining, dancing, swimming, golfing, gambling, conventions, comedy and music events to attend just a few minutes away on foot.
Vegas Reinventing Itself — Again
Cities undergo all kinds of transformations. In the 1990s, Las Vegas began marketing itself as a city for the entire family, with casinos opening that had attractions for kids and adults. With the popularity of the movie “Titanic”, one plan was a replica of the giant ship as a hotel and casino. The proposed plan also struck an iceberg and sunk.
That shifted in 2003 with the marketing slogan, “What happens in Las Vegas stays in Vegas.” The ad was sparked by a need to brand Vegas for something other than gambling. It was a brilliant campaign that drove millions of visitors to Sin City. Now we see another entertainment transformation taking shape with a void being filled — Vegas as a successful destination for pro sports. And we can thank the NHL Golden Knights for taking that important first step.