Las Vegas is getting its first major North American sports franchise as today NHL commissioner Gary Bettman officially announced the NHL unanimously voted to expand to 31 teams, giving birth to a great experiment and opportunity.
The challenges that this franchise potentially faces are unlike any other. Vegas is known for its entertainment and nightlife, providing this new team with hordes of competition for attention. That reality also leads to many Vegas residents working nights, which was reflected in the former ECHL’s Las Vegas Wranglers annual “Midnight Roundup” promotion, which was a game played at midnight.
The team might benefit from the constant stream of tourists, some which may even time their vacations to correspond with when their favorite team in visiting Vegas, but the NHL will be counting on the locals to provide the base of support.
Vegas’ metropolitan area is the home to more than 2 million people, but the desert city doesn’t have a major tradition of hockey. As Bettman noted though during Wednesday’s press conference, nontraditional markets have had success in other locations. Just this season two Florida teams led the Atlantic Division while three California teams finished atop the Pacific Division and of course the San Jose Sharks made it to the Stanley Cup Final.
The timing of this announcement also comes just before the 2016 NHL Entry Draft where the projected No. 1 pick is Auston Matthews, who was born in Arizona and exposed to the NHL through the Coyotes. He’s a symbol of how hockey entering nontraditional markets can spread interest in the sport.
“The NHL stands for the proposition that hockey is for everyone,” the new team’s owner, Bill Foley, added.
Vegas also has the potential to surprise people in part because the Vegas outsiders see isn’t the same as the experience of many residents.
“Most people don’t realize there’s life outside the Strip,” said Minnesota Wild forward Jason Zucker, per the National Post. He grew up in Vegas. “They come in, stay in the bubble that’s the Strip and they leave that bubble to go on a plane and go back to where they’re from.”
It’s also worth noting that Vegas is starting with 14,000 season-ticket holders.
“The strength of the Las Vegas bid, the success of the ticket drive and the unique appeal of the market led the executive committee and subsequently the board of governors to determine expansion not only is appropriate, but is important to the league’s continued growth and momentum,” Bettman said.
The league will receive a $500 million expansion fee. This marks the first time since 1997 that the NHL has added a brand new franchise. Las Vegas will start play in 2017-18, which corresponds with the league’s 100th birthday.