The NHL will welcome an expansion team for the first time since 2000 when the Vegas Golden Knights play next year, but the league won’t be content with just one new addition.
For one, the league now has an odd number of teams at 31 and with a $500 million price tag to join the NHL — not to mention the $10 million just to apply — expansion is a great way for the league to make money.
In 2015, groups/owners in Las Vegas and Quebec City were the only cities to apply for an expansion team, but there were other cities rumored to be interested including Seattle, Hamilton and Houston. Two years later, Virginia Beach may be the next city to throw its hat into the ring for an NHL franchise.
Why Virginia Beach?
The city of Virginia Beach is building a new 18,000-seat stadium, according to Harry Minium of The Virginia Pilot. The arena’s original hope was to bring the NCAA Basketball tournament there, but Minium reported that one of the stadium partners, Anschultz Entertainment Group, has met with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in an effort to ensure the arena could host an NHL team.
Virginia Beach had a population of 450,980 as of 2014 and it has been steadily growing over the last 25 years. In comparison, Las Vegas has a population of 613,599. Located at the southeast end of Virginia, almost in North Carolina, Virginia Beach is just 18 miles from Norfolk, VA, which is the home of the Norfolk Admirals of the ECHL. There’s just one hockey rink in the city, though, the Iceland Family Skating Center, which houses the Virginia Beach Hockey Club and a sledge team. Although not prevalent, there is a hockey community in Virginia Beach.
Virginia Beach Arena
The fact that AEG has reached out to Bettman is a good thing for a future NHL franchise. Some other ventures owned by the group include the Staples Center, interest in the Los Angeles Lakers and AEG founder Philip Anschultz helped create the MLS according to Minium. AEG also owns part of the Los Angeles Kings.
That, however, could be an issue at some point as owners/groups can own or have a stake in only one team, according to NHL rules. That would require AEG to sell their shares in the Kings if the group wants to bring an NHL franchise to Virginia Beach. It wouldn’t be a huge hurdle, but a hurdle none the less.
Minium also points out some other issues including the fact that United States Management owns the arena under construction and would stand to make the most revenue. There’s also the issue of re-designing the arena to fill the needs of a professional sports club including luxury boxes and concession stands.
Quebec City was denied an NHL franchise largely because the Canadian dollar and geography inhibited a possible team. The Canadian dollar, at least, won’t be an issue for AEG or USM, but the team will still have to bring in a crowd, which may be tough to do.
NHL in Virginia Beach?
As for the hockey already in Virginia, the Admirals were an AHL club until 2015 when the Anaheim Ducks moved their affiliation from Norfolk to San Diego. The ECHL’s Baskersfield Condors then moved to Norfolk and took over the Admirals name.
As an AHL team, the Admirals had an attendance average above 4,000 most years and sometimes reached above 5,000. In the ECHL this past season they were a shade below 3,000. Those numbers don’t suggest the area can fuel an NHL team, even if the money is there.
There’s also the issue of Raleigh, the home of the Carolina Hurricanes, sitting just 202 miles and about three hours away. The Hurricanes have their own issues of drawing fans to games and the NHL won’t want to cut into their fan base.
Minium reported that the stadium will likely be a home to an Arena Football League team right away. It’s possible the NHL waits to see how a semi-professional sports team does in Virginia Beach before wading too far in the water.
It’s possible that one day Virginia Beach could be a home to an NHL franchise, but right now the population, lack of hockey visibility in the city and other nearby NHL clubs doesn’t make it a more appealing city than Seattle or Quebec City.