How Loud Can a Hockey Goal Horn be on the Famous Las Vegas Strip?
This time I decided to write about a topic I myself find very interesting, so, for that reason, I’ll skip the slow introduction and get straight to the point.
Ice Hockey and its NHL (National Hockey League) is considered as one of the major sports and major leagues in North America, together with baseball, basketball, American football and recently maybe even soccer. A long time ago the NHL started to spread all over the American South in an attempt to grow and gain more quality and revenue.
Hockey crazy Canadians still do not consider area of the American South as a proper hockey market and they criticize the decision to award new franchises to cities of the American South. No matter what one or the other side says, the jury is still on these expansions.
Canadian Arguments Against Southern Expansions
Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames were all among the teams with top 10 attendances in last NHL season. They managed to do so, even though all of those teams missed the playoffs. Explanation is quite simple, these hockey-crazy markets attract the fans to the arenas even when the product on ice was not as good as fans’ high expectations demand.
On the other hand, teams from the warm climates, Anaheim Ducks, Florida Panthers and San Jose Sharks were among teams with the worst attendances in the league, even though the Ducks won the Western Conference, the Panthers won the Atlantic Division and the Sharks reached the Stanley Cup Finals. With this impressive, top class hockey on show in their arenas, these teams still didn’t manage to attract more than 17,000 fans per game. Hockey passion is nowhere near as high as it is in colder parts, especially Canada.
Six NHL markets that currently count the fewest number of hockey fans are Nashville, Miami, Raleigh, Columbus, Phoenix and Tampa. They are all located in the American South. Combined, these 6 franchises lost $51M in a season, according to Forbes.
Arizona Coyotes financial struggles were so bad at one point that they had to be owned by the NHL itself. This unflattering situation occurred, because the Coyotes struggled to find permanent owners. This situation lasted for four years. Interestingly, that “NHL owned” period was the most successful era in Coyotes’ history, so far.
Canadian fans are not alone in saying that there should be more NHL teams north of the border. Canada is a hockey country and at the moment there are only 7 Canadian teams and 23 US teams in the NHL, even though hockey fan base in these two countries is practically the same size.
American Arguments in Favor of Southern Expansion
Hockey naturally does have its markets in the United States. Four of the “Original Six” teams are based in the United States (New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks). These teams are proud of their history and they are located in big cities where attendance will only be a problem when product on the ice is so bad that even the passionate fans can’t take it. There are also teams from the US “hockey towns” like Minnesota Wild and Buffalo Sabres, and they finished fourth and eleventh in attendance last season respectively.
The NHL will tell you that the expansions to non-traditional markets were a massive success. This season Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers were the best teams in the Atlantic Division. The Lightning’s short history is very sweet – they won the Stanley Cup in 2004 and reached the Stanley Cup finals in 2015. The Los Angeles Kings created a dynasty that won two Stanley Cups since 2012 and they even managed to attract “The Great One” – Wayne Gretzky, to South California in the late 1980s (there is a great 30 for 30 documentary about that trade called “King’s Ransom”). The Anaheim Ducks won their Stanley Cup in 2007 (remember “The Mighty Ducks” movie franchise?) and the last Californian team, the San Jose Sharks, reached the before mentioned Stanley Cup Final this season. On ice, the expansion teams work really well!
Arizona Coyotes are among the less successful expansion teams, since they reached one Conference Finals during the “NHL owned” period, but they did manage to inspire talented kids in the Arizona desert to give hockey a try. This year’s No1. NHL draft pick was Auston Matthews from Arizona. Other people with his impressive physical attributes in Arizona tend to give other sports a try, but he decided to test his luck at ice hockey after falling in love with his local Coyotes. So, it’s easy to see: No Coyotes – no Auston Matthews, the hockey player.
US Gets Another Expansion Team
This summer the NHL announced a new expansion, the first since 2000, when northern US markets of Minnesota and Columbus both paid $80M each to join the league. Since the 2013 NHL division realignment the Western Conference counted 14 teams, 2 less than the Eastern Conference, so the NHL tried to equal the count with this expansion.
If you don’t know already, you can surely guess that this news expansion has again awarded a new franchise to the American South. And what a city they chose, the Sin City – Las Vegas!
Unlike in 2000, when the NHL received a commitment of $80M from each expansion team, this time the NHL received a “slightly” bigger commitment of $500 million from a billionaire Bill Foley for the Las Vegas expansion team. The Las Vegas expansion team will start to compete in the NHL with the beginning of 2017/18 season, playing in the T-Mobile Arena, located near the Las Vegas “action”, on the famous Strip.
million dollars Bill Foley paid for Las Vegas NHL franchise
On top of this nice pile of money, the NHL liked the idea to expand to Las Vegas for several reasons:
- still unnamed Las Vegas team is “close” to Arizona Coyotes and the Californian teams, so it will compete in the Western Conference and
- more importantly, Las Vegas did not have any major sport franchise until now!
Quebec will Have to Wait
Another city that applied for a franchise was a hockey crazy city from Canada – Quebec City. Quebec doesn’t have a NHL franchise since 1995, when the Nordiques moved to Denver and named themselves – Colorado Avalanche.
To make things worse for Quebec fans, the Nordiques never managed to win a Stanley Cup while in Canada, but as soon as they moved to Denver, during the very first season, they won their first Stanley Cup. Talk about pouring salt on the wound.
“(Picking Las Vegas) is not to say we weren’t impressed by Quebec City’s proposal” – Jeremy Jacobs, The chairman of the board of governors and Boston Bruins’ owner
Anyway, back to the present day. This time Quebec did officially apply for a franchise, same as Las Vegas, but at the moment, as things stand, Quebecians will not watch NHL hockey in their town in 2017.
The NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said that, while Quebec City was the only other city to apply, their application has been deferred “based on elements that Quebec had no control over.”
Mr. Bettman said that the NHL liked Quebec’s passion for the game, its new arena and their proposed ownership scheme (so basically everything, but you know a “but” is coming), but the NHL had concerns about the declining value of the Canadian Dollar and the fact that Quebec is located in the Eastern part of Canada and the NHL has an overload of teams in the Eastern Conference. To conclude, Mr. Bettman added that this doesn’t mean Quebec’s expansion bid is over, far from it. Their bid will be discussed again in the future. So basically no proper reason was given to Quebec, they were told to keep calm and wait on.
Some six years ago another Canadian city – Winnipeg, was in the same situation. They knew they will get a franchise, but they did not know when. They waited and since 2011 the Winnipeg Jets compete in the NHL. Winnipeg Jets were not an expansion team, they were relocated from Atlanta and renamed from Thrashers to Jets.
Ah, Atlanta… a loser hockey city of the American South. Just to show you that not only Canadian cities lose their hockey teams. Atlanta lost two hockey teams in the space of 31 years, both to relocation.
In 1973 Atlanta was awarded an expansion franchise – Atlanta Flames, and less than a decade later that team was relocated, renamed, and still exists as Calgary Flames. In 1997, Atlanta was awarded another expansion team – the Thrashers, and … well the rest you already know.
But let’s get back to the things at hand – the Las Vegas Nameless.
is the estimated number of hockey fans in Las Vegas
NHL in Las Vegas – Cons
I’ll start with cons, simply because I like to end on a high note!
The 2013 fan base analysis estimated that there are about 91,000 hockey fans in the Las Vegas metropolitan area. That number means nothing to us without comparison to other markets. And that comparison does not look good for Las Vegas. The 91,000 Las Vegas hockey fans means that it is a small fan base compared even with Nashville’s 146,000 and Tampa’s 279,000 hockey fans. Two other potential expansion cities, Seattle and Quebec City have a hockey fan base of 241,000 and 530,000 hockey fans respectively.
Bad news for Las Vegas expansion are unfortunately just beginning. Las Vegas may not have a major sport franchise, but they do have professional sport franchises. And they do not have good attendances. Las Vegas’ Triple-A baseball franchise, the Las Vegas 51s, competes in the Pacific Coast League, and the 51s had the lowest attendance in their league this season.
Las Vegas even had their professional hockey team, the Las Vegas Wranglers (previously named Thunder) that competed in the ECHL, but they were disbanded earlier this year after years of poor attendances and inability to find a long term home arena.
Las Vegas also had an Arena Football team, the Gladiators, but they were relocated to Cleveland after 5 seasons of attendance below the league average. From this season Las Vegas again has a new Arena Football League team this season, the Outlaws, but again, their attendances ware poor in their first home games in Las Vegas.
Is it asking too much from Las Vegas fans to support a major sport team, when they failed to support any of their minor sport teams? I don’t think so, because in my opinion there is a difference between major sports and other professional sports.
Las Vegas does have its positives, more about them later, but public transport problem, massive entertainment competition, irregular working hours and the fact that the locals try to avoid the Strip, where the T-Mobile Arena is located, all might prove to be a problem for the city’s NHL team.
The backers of the franchise did present to the NHL a list of commitments from more than 14,000 future fans that have paid their deposits for season tickets. That does sound good, but only until you hear that a Canadian team, the before mentioned Winnipeg Jets, sold out their 13,000 season tickets in the first 17 minutes after it was announced that the Atlanta Thrashers will be moving to Winnipeg.
Las Vegas will also surely have to wait for quite some time until their Auston Matthews appears. According to the Las Vegas Review Journal, only about 400 boys and girls play youth hockey in the city’s metropolitan area. That is not a surprise when you consider that there are only three rinks in the entire valley, not surprising for the desert. There is always argument that this team will inspire youth to play hockey just as Coyotes inspired Auston Matthews.
And let me finish this paragraph with one more comparison, this time with the most similar team to the Las Vegas franchise, another team from the desert – the Arizona Coyotes. Even in their most successful season 2011–12, when they won their division and made it to the Western Conference finals, they still finished dead last in attendance in the NHL. Young Auston Matthews didn’t care, why should we?
fans paid their deposits for Las Vegas Nameless season tickets
boys and girls play youth hockey in Las Vegas metropolitan area
According to reports an NBA team in Las Vegas would make more sense, based on the NBA related google searches in the area. And the NBA, unlike the NHL had success in similar markets San Antonio and Oklahoma City. On top of that, the only Las Vegas’ sports team that has drawn good attandances is a basketball team. The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels averaged about 14,000 fans per game since 2009.
The Oakland Raiders also had serious talks with Las Vegas city about a possible move to Nevada. Franchise’s owner Mark Davis suggested that he and his partners, which include casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, could build a $1.4 billion domed stadium near the Strip.
David Beckham also met with the group to discuss sharing that new field, but the MLS had ruled out Las Vegas as a potential expansion location.
NHL in Las Vegas – Pros
Las Vegas may not be a major TV market, but its TV station have high visibility, simply because city attracts visitors from all over the world. And that can only benefit the new franchise, because having a team in Las Vegas is like having free international marketing.
Las Vegas is also an attractive place for the NHL’s 31st team because of several other reasons. The Las Vegas team will be the first major sports team to play the home game in the city, unless, of course NFL’s Oakland Raiders speed up the relocation and also move to the city before the NHL’s opening day of 2017/18 season.
The T-Mobile Arena, is located on the Las Vegas Strip and it was built by the MGM Resorts International, which recently acquired the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. Las Vegas resorts will profit from this move, that’s for sure. They know a thing or two about making profit and they surely wouldn’t sail into this deal, unless they had favorable financial projections for this massive project.
There was a dogma, and you decide whether it was valid or not. The dogma that major sports “believed in” stated that they should “ignore” Las Vegas due to city’s association with sports betting.
NHL decided to ignore that dogma, because, well – facts.
Major sports leagues have claimed that if a franchise is located close enough to establishments that allow gambling, it would threaten the integrity of games. But that claim was debunked by The American Gaming Association (AGA). They stated that more than 80% of the NFL teams play their home games within a 1-hour drive of a casino and nobody doubts the integrity of the NFL results. At least when replacement referees are not involved.
AGA President and CEO Geoff Freeman said on this subject:
“The NHL’s decision is the latest signal that professional sports leagues are increasingly comfortable with legal, regulated sports betting. Nothing threatens the integrity of sports more than the illegal sports betting marketplace where Americans spent at least $150 billion over the last year through bookies and illegal, and often offshore, websites.
By breaking the Las Vegas dam, the NHL is also pouring cold water on the argument that regulated sports betting harms the integrity of sports–and boosting efforts to legalize sports betting across the country. The League’s decision is just the latest signal that professional sports leagues are increasingly comfortable with legal, regulated sports betting and recognize the integrity benefits it brings.”
NHL surely made the AGA happy, and making them happy can’t do harm when you plan to do business in Las Vegas.
million tourists visited Las Vegas in 2015
“This could be a watershed moment for our community and sports in Southern Nevada. Having a professional hockey team will not only boost our economy, but also our sense of community pride.” – Jonas Peterson, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance
There are few cities that are well known worldwide. Las Vegas is probably the smallest of those cities and it has its tourism to thank for that. Las Vegas is with its 150,000 hotel rooms, without a doubt the tourism capital of America. More than 42 million tourists spent their money in Las Vegas only in 2015. Not bad for a city with the population of 583,756.
That means that at any given time Las Vegas is full of people that are not Las Vegas or Nevada residents. Tourists come to Vegas to gamble, but they also come to Las Vegas to see shows. T-Mobile Arena is located on the Strip, close to the action. That has it’s before mentioned flaws, but it also has its benefits. Hockey has every right to hope it can become an alternative to, let’s say, David Copperfield or Cirque de Soleil.
With (so far) no other major sport team in town, hockey will have a monopoly on the city’s sport fandom, but since there are a lot of tourists in Las Vegas, is it that impossible to imagine a group of friends from Chicago to plan their trip to Vegas at the same time their Blackhawks play their game there?
This will happen, in even greater amount than it happened in Tampa, where Lightning had to take measures to prevent visitor fans to take over their home arena.
The Las Vegas itself has the before mentioned population of 583,756, but city’s metropolitan area counts nearly 2.2 million people according to the 2010 census. Before the expansion that meant that Las Vegas area it the largest population center in the U.S. without a major sports franchise.
Public support for Bill Foley’s NHL expansion bid has been huge. Las Vegas residents and businesses noticed the appeal of being the only big sports entertainment event in a city that loves big lights and big events. The number of hockey fans in Las Vegas will grow, that is not in doubt. And if local businesses are betting on “their” team to succeed, we should listen to them. They know a thing or two about betting.
How the Social Media Reacted
NHL’s official account was not that creative in their announcement:
Other NHL teams had much more creative welcome, aimed at their social media followers:
Maybe the best was back a forth exchange between the Las Vegas team and their new division rivals, the Anaheim Ducks:
Local Las Vegas’ businesses also welcomed the new franchise in original way social media demands:
“Las Vegas royalty” also welcomed the NHL team to their home town, and who better than Canadian hockey fan and professional poker player Daniel Negreanu:
One big issue for the Las Vegas franchise is the team’s on ice quality in the first few seasons. In all major sports almost expansion teams tend struggle to reach the highest level of the league in the first season.
This is where the NHL decided to help. The 2017 Las Vegas Expansion Draft is designed in such a way that the Las Vegas franchise will be competitive from the go! Here is the link to the expansion draft rules, but all experts agree – Las Vegas team should be able to reach the playoffs in its first season.
So, the quality of the team is sorted then!
Another major issue left to decide is the name of the team. Bill Foley uses the Black Knights as one of his company names, so there were many speculations that this will indeed be the name of Las Vegas franchise. Mr. Foley has yet to confirm or deny it. Media outlets did joke about the name of the team, and one that really caught my eye was – the Las Vegas Nordiques. This proposition suggested that the team will be relocated to Quebec in 5 years time anyway, so this will eliminate the need to change the name.
Although funny, it is mean spirited.
I like pioneer projects and this is one of them. There are many reasons why this project might fail and there are many reasons why this project will succeed. I hope that this will be another situation where the saying “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” proves to be correct!
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