When the National Hockey League announced that Vegas will be the 31st franchise on June 22nd of this year, hockey fans were shocked as they picked Sin City over a stable hockey market like Quebec. The expansion franchise also known as the Vegas Golden Knights will begin play in the 2017-2018 N.H.L season so what does hockey in Vegas mean for commissioner Gary Bettman and the N.H.L?
According to Hockey Subcultures professor at Fanshawe College, Claire Senior, the National Hockey League are doing as much as they can to make Vegas succeed,” The N.H.L is doing their best to stack the deck in its favour with the kindest expansion rules in the history of the league. I think they really have a vested interest in making sure this team succeeds. If you look at expansion teams going back into the early 90’s with the Sharks, Senators, and Lightning and how dreadful they were for 4-5 years so clearly the N.H.L does not want that to happen.”
The Vegas Golden Knights will be the first major professional league team in the city and the expectations are high if they can deliver a stable product after ownership led by Bill Foley paid the 500 million dollar expansion fee. Professor Claire Senior thinks that the team will be a short- term success but long- term is questionable, ” You’re talking about a market that does not have any other major league team so in essence that is a good thing because of not a lot of other competition but it’s a bad thing because if you look at the actual population of Las Vegas, it’s not particularly high and it’s very much run on tourism dollars and tourists are not coming to Las Vegas to watch hockey.”
There has always been an interest in Vegas from the N.H.L, after all, the league hosts its annual awards nights every year in the city but interest can date back to 1991 when an outdoor game was played outside of Caesars Palace between the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings and since 1997, there has been an exhibition game series known as the Frozen Fury between the Kings and Colorado Avalanche at the MGM Grand Arena.
Being the first professional league team in Vegas, Other pro sports leagues in the BIG 4 like the M.L.B, N.F.L, and N.B.A will be watching how pro sports fares in the tiny market of Vegas, Professor Claire Senior says there is a wait and see attitude with the BIG 4, ” The culture of sports in the states is so different. I don’t know the appetite in the other leagues for expansion as it has mainly been relocation. If hockey is a success, they might think about and not, they will probably avoid it.”
Now the talk is how will the city and the team be an impact when trying to recruit free agents, Professor Claire Senior thinks Vegas will be successful in that department,” Young guys will love it because of the fable night life and climate. It will also depend on the spending patterns on how Bill Foley commits to free agency and spend to the cap. If the ownership is committed to winning and opening the pocket book, then I can see the interest where you will be playing in a division with 3 California teams and Arizona where the travel will be little compared to the other divisions.”
For now, we will have to wait till the puck drops at the T-Mobile Arena in 2017-2018 to see if there is a market for hockey in the Sin City.