Las Vegas is once again building a case for its first professional sports franchise, only this time there is actual construction to support the effort.
A partnership between MGM Resorts International and Los Angeles-based Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) is building a 20,000-seat stadium located between the New York-New York and Monte Carlo casinos. The privately funded $375 million stadium is capable of hosting an NHL or NBA team starting in the spring of 2016.
William Foley, billionaire Chairman of Fidelity National Financial, is leading a Maloof family-supported ownership group trying to lure the NHL to Vegas. Locals are hoping that pre-established connections to Vegas — the site of every NHL Awards show since 2009 and numerous L.A. Kings preseason games since 1997 — will lead to the first permanent professional team in Sin City.
Las Vegas’ first franchise would have a monopoly on local sports fans and could capitalize on the trend of increasing revenue from entertainment as opposed to gambling. However, a sports franchise would be competing with the countless entertainment options in town. That competition may prove too strong for any professional league, especially the NHL.
A long-standing concern of professional leagues is Las Vegas’s strong connection to gambling. As explained by NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, “if we ever get to the point of actively evaluating a franchise opportunity in Las Vegas, we will have to consider what the legalized sports betting means, and how we want to deal with it.”
An additional concern is the availability of a fan base. A majority of residents are employed by the hotel and gaming industry. With a high volume of night-shifts and unpredictable employment schedules, many people work at night and rest during the day, reducing the number of fans available to attend games.
On December 8th, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was very careful when speaking about potential expansion, saying that “there is no formal expansion process. There is no vote that was taken today. There is no vote that was contemplated. We don’t have an agreement to sell anybody an expansion franchise.” However, Foley did receive NHL permission to run a season-ticket drive to measure local level of interest. The drive will likely start in early 2015, but a website to gauge interest picked up over 1,500 sign-ups in its first few days. That’s a good start, but a successful ticket drive will need much more support if Las Vegas is to get the full attention of the NHL.