As reported by the Associated Press and ESPN, the National Hockey League has settled on the city of Las Vegas as its choice for the league’s new expansion team provided that organizers can come up with $500 million for an expansion fee. The $500 million expansion fee is more than six times the amount paid by organizers for the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild when those two franchises came into the league in the late 90’s and early 2000’s (approximately $80 million).
— WPTV (@WPTV) June 14, 2016
According to a source briefed on the NHL’s decision with the Associated Press, the NHL expanding to Las Vegas is a “done deal.” The NHL’s Board of Governors will reportedly vote on the possible expansion to the ‘City of Sin’ during a meeting on June 22nd in Toronto. Quebec City was named as the other finalist for the NHL’s potential expansion, with Seattle, Salt Lake City, and Hamilton (Ontario) also having been named as potential expansion sites before Las Vegas and QC were named as finalists.
If the Board of Governors does vote to allow hockey to expand into Las Vegas, the new team playing out in the desert would likely call the new T-Mobile arena, located between the MGM Grand and Anschutz Entertainment Group along the ‘Vegas strip, their new home. The arena, which opened in April of 2016, holds a capacity of approximately 20,000 for boxing and MMA events, 18,800 for basketball games, and 17,500 for ice hockey.
Flew to SJ through Vegas. Round building at left is T-Mobile Arena out window. Soon to be home of NHL’s 31st team. pic.twitter.com/hpRyki9oDO
— Mike Harrington (@BNHarrington) June 10, 2016
The earliest that the new NHL team could play in Las Vegas would be the 2017-2018 season according to reports. The National Hockey League is set to play two preseason games at T-Mobile Arena in early October as part of the league’s “Frozen Fury” series with the Los Angeles Kings taking on both the Colorado Avalanche and the Dallas Stars on back-to-back nights.
It’s pretty obvious that the NHL feels that Las Vegas is a goldmine when it comes to producing revenue for their sport. The league knows that by putting a team in ‘Vegas, they are attracting all of the best-traveling fan bases (Maple Leafs, Canadiens, Canucks, Oilers, Bruins, Blackhawks, Rangers, Penguins) to fly into the City of Sin and spend a couple of days at the casinos and watch their teams play. Sure, the new team in ‘Vegas will create their own fan base and surely be a popular attraction to attend for the people living in Las Vegas, especially since this will be the first major American professional sports team to call ‘Vegas its home. But, the real reason for the NHL deciding to move to the desert is all about the money that will be flowing in from tourists. Las Vegas is not a professional sports town, and it certainly is not a hockey town, but, it is definitely a money town. The people of Quebec City are a million times more passionate about the game of hockey than anybody living in Las Vegas (except hockey fans who have relocated), but when it comes down to it, where would the average shmoe rather travel to watch their team play in the middle of the winter? Frozen Quebec City and not be able to gamble, or sunny Las Vegas and be able to go out and party your face off. The drinking age might only be 18 in Quebec, but the average hockey fan would likely have a more fun time and spend more money while visiting Las Vegas than they would when visiting QC. It was an easy decision by the NHL to move to Nevada rather than Quebec. Now, it all comes down to the BOG vote on June 22nd and whether or not the $500 million expansion fee can be paid. The $500 million is certainly a ton of money, but it’s not too irrational of a thought to believe that a city that has billions of dollars going in and out of it every year like Las Vegas won’t be able to find a way to get the fee paid and bring hockey to the desert. Phil Kessel is a Stanley Cup Champion and hockey is heading to Las Vegas, strange year for the NHL, indeed.