Questioning the NHL’s Move to Las Vegas

The NHL Can Be the First Professional Sports League in Las Vegas [photo: madlyinlovewithlife CC]
When Tony Gallagher of The Province reported back in August that the NHL’s quest for expansion in Las Vegas was a “done deal” there was quite the commotion from fans and media. This announcement was especially odd because, at the time, the league was denying any sort of suggestion that they were investigating possible expansion locations. What the claim by Gallagher accomplished, however, was that people began to really take the NHL’s possible expansion plans seriously. Everyone was quick to point out the imbalance of the Eastern and Western conferences (16 teams in the East with only 14 teams in the West) and how two more teams in the West would right the ship. There was also the fact that MGM and AEG is in the process of making a $375 million state-of-the-art arena right on the strip, set to open in 2016.

Then Gary Bettman revealed at the Board of Governors meeting in December that there was a strong enough mutual interest for the NHL to approve a season-ticket drive for potential owner Bill Foley. For the NHL to even reveal their desire to say “well, let’s see where this thing goes,” was definitely meant something in itself. So when we first got word that the ticket drive received 5,000 of the desired 10,000 pledges within the first 36 hours, people were ready to just pencil in Las Vegas as a definite destination of a future expansion team. People were already drawing up concept jerseys and debating on the team’s name.

Las Vegas Aces jersey set [photo: sparky chewbarky]
Las Vegas Aces jersey set [photo: sparky chewbarky]
Then we waited. And waited. And waited some more.

Ticket Drive Hits a Wall

About 12 days after the initial 5,000 commitments were announced, Alan Snel of the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the ticket drive gained just 1,950 commitments in the time since the last report. That brought the total number of pledges up to 6,950 in a little less than two weeks.

It should be noted, that nobody anticipated that Vegas would hit their mark right away. In 2o10, the Winnipeg Jets sold out their upcoming season in just about 2 minutes (according to the CBC). Nobody saw that happening in this scenario. But after such a promising first day, it appears that the Vegas market may just not be strong enough to support a team. After all, Bettman wasn’t just looking to see if the city could hit their mark. At his press conference back in December, he stated clearly that the point of this ticket drive was to “measure the level of interest in the market.” Even if Foley hit the 10,000 mark with commitments, it was no guarantee that they would get the team. Bettman wanted to see how smoothly this process would go and this tremendous drop-off after day one probably wasn’t what Bettman was looking for. And the fact that the minimum asking price per commitment is just 10% of the cheapest ticket price ($150) can’t be too encouraging either.

Are These Totals Good Enough to Earn a Team?

The bottom line is that Gary Bettman really wants this ticket drive to succeed. He’s been monitoring the numbers every day and has kept a watchful eye over the whole process. After weeks of shooting down questions about the NHL’s interest in Las Vegas, the league has appeared very motivated to find out if Sin City is a viable hockey market. On the other end, Bill Foley is doing everything in his power to get the numbers growing, even pleading with local businesses to get the word out. Additionally, he has refused to permit casinos from purchasing tickets in this drive to show that this is a team that won’t rely on casinos’ money in order to survive. They even paid for a local advertisement during the Super Bowl.

Even today, as reported by Mike Halford, an email was sent out from Hockey Vision Las Vegas which read, “As an added incentive to join our season ticket holder family, for a limited time, fans who secure their place in line with a minimum of two season ticket deposits will receive a complimentary replica team jersey in advance of our 2016 season if we are awarded a team. Other restrictions apply. We are moving closer to our goal of 10,000 season ticket deposits and you can help make our collective dream a reality by placing your season ticket deposit.”

Gary Bettman (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
Gary Bettman (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Whether or not you agreed with the NHL’s vast expansion in the 1990’s which brought teams to Florida, Nashville, Phoenix, California and other “non-hockey markets” you can’t argue with the fact that Bettman’s undying will to push the game to new bounds has grown the game in a way that no other commissioner has before. He recognises the opportunity to be the first professional sports league in Las Vegas and he’s closer than ever to breaking ground on this market. It’s a slam dunk for the commissioner who has defined his career with placing teams in new markets and then laying it on the line to keep those teams alive, much to the chagrin of NHL-deprived Canadians and other hockey purists.

Some people point to the Arizona Coyotes lack of exposure and success and state that hockey in Las Vegas was doomed to begin with. But with a passionate owner and with an intrigued and inspired commissioner, perhaps this chapter ends with the NHL standing all alone as the only professional sports league with a team on the strip.

For more information about the ticket drive, visit https://www.vegaswantshockey.net/