NHL keeping cool about expansion

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The T-Mobile Arena, due to open April 6, is the anticipated home for an NHL expansion team.
The T-Mobile Arena, due to open April 6, is the anticipated home for an NHL expansion team. Photo Credit: Al Powers

If everything goes as planned, 18 months from now, Las Vegas' new NHL team will be taking the ice for its preseason games.

But the process hasn't gone as smoothly as planned for billionaire Bill Foley, the driving force behind Las Vegas' bid for an expansion hockey team, which would be the city's first major-league team in any sport.

It's been more than a year since Foley and minority partners the Maloof family, the former owners of the NBA's Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings as well as the WNBA's Sacramento Monarchs, launched the Vegas Wants Hockey ticket drive and more than seven months since the group submitted its formal expansion application to the NHL.

The ticket drive, launched with the league's approval, asked Las Vegas residents to put down a deposit for season tickets for a team that didn't even have a name, and it was still an immediate success.

"Within six to eight weeks, we surpassed 10,000 tickets [sold]," said Todd Pollock, the vice president of ticketing and suites for Black Knight Sports & Entertainment, the organization Foley set up for the expansion bid. That's nearly 60% of the seating capacity planned for hockey at the T-Mobile Arena, which Foley has secured as the possible team's Las Vegas home, placing hockey near the heart of the Strip, between New York New York and Monte Carlo. It's scheduled to open April 6.

"Ten thousand season tickets for most NHL teams is a really good number," Pollock said. "We are now over 14,000 deposits."

Once the ticket drive had been established, the NHL commissioner's office invited the group to participate in the expansion process and submit a formal application, along with a $10 million application fee. Should the team be approved, Foley and his partners would pay at least $500 million for the franchise.

Black Knight's application was submitted in July, and in September, the group presented the bid to the NHL Board of Governors Executive Committee.

Yet so far, the league's answer has been elusive. "We are basically just waiting for the response from the league," Pollock said. "They have not voted in any capacity."

That means the other expansion bid, for a team based in Quebec City, is also in limbo. The NHL could approve one, both or neither of the applications.

The process has dragged on longer than Foley expected. "I thought we'd have the team in no time," he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in February. "It just shows you how naive I was."

If the Vegas desert sounds like an odd fit for the NHL, consider that it wouldn't be the town's first pro hockey squad. The Las Vegas Thunder, a member of the minor league International Hockey League, called the Thomas & Mack Center home from 1993 to 1999. They were followed in 2003 by the another minor league team, the Las Vegas Wranglers, who still hold the league record for the longest winning streak (18), though poor attendance sent the team packing from the Orleans Arena in 2014.

Would Las Vegas citizens come out to support an NHL team? Pollock said yes, pointing to the strong sales for a team that doesn't exist yet and to the Founding 75, community members who "opened their Rolodexes" and committed to selling a certain number of season tickets.

"This is a local Las Vegas team for sure," Pollock said. "Tickets are going to be very difficult to get your hands on."

Despite the delays in league approval, Pollock said Black Knight is preparing to start play in the fall of 2017, working to secure land for a practice facility and assemble a staff and infrastructure.

"We've obviously respected the time line, and we are just patiently waiting," he said.

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