Is NHL preparing to hedge a bet on Vegas?
With the recent talk about the NHL coming to Las Vegas seemingly gaining steam, those involved in the game at the youth level in town feel like it’d be a win-win for the world’s best circuit to set up shop.
Whether or not the NHL deems Las Vegas worthy is another story, but those with the Las Vegas Jr. Wranglers and Nevada Storm programs have their minds made up.
“It’d be a great thing for hockey here,” Jr. Wranglers president Matt Edlin said. “The NHL teams really are promoting youth hockey from the grassroots up, and all teams have community development departments.
“Vegas can offer a new horizon for the NHL market. We have people from all over the world who live and work here. It’s a great destination for road team fans to come and visit.”
At the end of January, the Las Vegas Wranglers voluntarily withdrew their membership in the ECHL, unable to find a location to play for the 2015-16 season and beyond.
“Being the ‘first-to-market’ here would give the NHL a huge jump on any future major sports teams,” said John Brooks, who co-owns the Storm and Las Vegas Ice Center with his brother, Kirk. “The new (18,000-seat) arena is well under construction and is expected to be as nice as any with all the most modern conveniences and technology, and it’s privately funded.
“With two million people in Clark County, this is a pretty good-sized market with no major professional sports teams. The potential ownership group (led by Bill Foley) has reached out to community leaders to form the Founding 50 and the response has been so overwhelming that it’s already been changed to the Founding 75, but they are now over 80.”
The Founding 75 is a veritable “who’s who” of Las Vegas, and each member is expected to recruit at least 60 season-ticket holders. The Storm is one of the founding members.
In addition to building a strong season-ticket base, pro sports leagues typically seek widespread corporate support in any new market, which in this case would need to include the region’s casinos.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported the arena, being built to NHL and NBA specifications, is set to open in early 2016 and is going to host UFC first.
Foley and the Maloof family (owners of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings from 1998-2013) bought two local 15-second commercials that aired during the Super Bowl on Feb. 1. The Foley-Maloof team is hoping to get at least 10,000 season-ticket deposits to prove to the NHL that Las Vegas has the requisite fan base. Fans are being asked to pay a 10-percent deposit on season tickets.
Las Vegas Storm (Western States Hockey League) coach and general manager and head youth hockey director for the Storm and Las Vegas Ice Center Gabe Gauthier sees the NHL’s presence as nothing but a score for the youth scene in Las Vegas.
“As a kid, having a role model to look up to sets the bar for achievement,” said Gauthier, who played seven seasons of pro hockey, including a handful of NHL call-ups. “If you were to ask a kid why he plays hockey, the answer always is, ‘I want to play in the NHL.’
“Kids will be on the ice pretending to make moves, skate and shoot like their favorite NHL player and having that player in their hometown playing will add to their dreams and aspirations.
“I know that by having the team here, NHL players will be involved with the community and with youth organizations by going out to practices and spending time with the kids and putting that amazing look of joy on a kid’s face – that’s the best part.”
Added John Brooks: “It really just feels like the time is right for both the NHL and the community. Geographically, it’ll be a great fit.”
“Vegas has a great proximity with the other NHL teams in the west to make travel convenient for the players and for the fans,” he said. “By having the NHL look to Vegas as a new home for hockey tells the hockey community and sports world that the game of hockey is growing and becoming more recognized and appreciated.”
Will it happen? Time will tell.
– Matt Mackinder