Speculation that the NHL will one day expand into Las Vegas was kicked into overdrive Monday, as commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed that the league’s Board of Governors has permitted prospective owner Bill Foley to conduct a season-ticket drive in order to gauge interest in the market.
Bettman says potential Vegas owner Bill Foley has been given the green light to generate season-ticket drive to see what interest there is
— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) December 8, 2014
Bettman: If a season-ticket drive goes well in Vegas, NHL would have to determine next step. This is only to measure interest in market.
— Nick Cotsonika (@cotsonika) December 8, 2014
Gary Bettman stressed that a formal NHL expansion process hasn’t been opened, but they want to know if the market will support a team.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) December 8, 2014
Bettman proceeded to temper excitement and buzz surrounding the news, asking reporters “please do not make more out of this than it is.”
Might be too late for that, though.
Foley, along with the Maloof family, was reported as the league’s chosen ownership group by the New York Post last month. That report coincided with news that NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly toured the construction site of MGM’s $350 million, 20,000-seat arena; the Post also reported the proposed Vegas franchise fee was $400 million.
As such, it’s not surprising the league has greenlit a ticket drive. There are several unknowns about the viability of a Las Vegas team, and the ability to both build and maintain a local fanbase remains chief among them.
“What’s difficult on making a call on Vegas is it’s such a unique market,” Daly said in November. “It’s really hard to know. The owners are going to have to be satisfied that the prospects of putting a franchise there are good and the fundamentals are solid.”
Hence the BOG allowing prospective owners to do some homework.
The key, it seems, is Foley and Co. figuring out if there’s enough local interest to work with. In terms of market size and population, Vegas is relatively close to the same size as Columbus, but dramatically different in terms of dynamics (ex: the number of Vegas employees that do shift work) and rival entertainment options (because, y’know, it’s Vegas.)
And one thing is clear: the NHL’s skeptical of a team going to Vegas under the pretense of tourists, snowbirds and casino patrons filling the arena.
“You can’t depend on tourists to fill your building every night — even rich ones,” Daly explained. “You really need a local fan base.”