The idea of putting a professional sports franchise in Las Vegas has long been intriguing and controversial. However, in recent months Las Vegas has come closer than ever to getting a team to call its own and the league that might first put a franchise in the desert is the NHL.
It’s an unusual scenario, but one that billionaire Bill Foley is committed seeing happen.
“I don’t care what it takes,” Foley told ESPN. Although he admitted, “we’ve made good progress but the reality is that Las Vegas is an unproven market.”
The NHL has taken enough interest in the subject though to grant him permission to run a season-ticket drive so that Foley and the league can gauge the level of local interest. Clearly part of the appeal of a market like Las Vegas is the fact that it’s a massive tourist destination and some of those visitors might want to take in a game or two during their vacation, but the NHL won’t put a franchise there based on that alone.
“You can’t depend on tourists to fill your building every night — even rich ones,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly explained. “You really need a local fan base.”
That’s a sentiment Foley is completely on board with.
“I don’t want to see everyone in the stands with a Canucks jersey on,” Foley said. “I’m not trying to promote the Red Wings.”
If the ticket drive goes well, then Vegas might start to look like the most probable choice for NHL expansion. Seattle and Quebec City are often brought up as potential sites for a new franchise too, but both of those cities face potential roadblocks by comparison. There is already a 20,000-seat arena being constructed in Las Vegas while Seattle is unlikely to start building its own NHL/NBA arena until 2016 at the earliest, per Sports Illustrated.
Given the NHL’s current alignment, adding a team in the west would also make more geographical sense than putting a second squad in the province of Quebec. With a Metropolitan population of roughly 2 million, Vegas is more than twice the size of Quebec City and roughly on par with some other hockey markets like Columbus and San Jose.
This is the year that potential expansion plan truly seemed to be set in motion. We’ll see if it leads to an opener in Sin City.