Picture the scene: it’s February 1, 2015. The Patriots are on their way to their fourth Super Bowl. The most watched broadcast in US television history. Yet it wasn’t Tom Brady that caught our attention. Nor was it the Seahawks’ crazy attempt at a pass to gain a yard in the dying seconds when they had the best running back in the league.
No; it was the ad which suggests ‘Vegas Wants Hockey’.
Earlier this month saw the launch of a special ‘Vegas Wants Hockey’ campaign with its aim to bring an official National Hockey League (NHL) team to our hometown in Nevada.
It’s been an idea mooted for many years now, with the city in desperate need for a major league sports side.
Of course in the past that has been an issue due to the influx of gambling in the state – the NFL won’t even allow Vegas-based hotels to advertise during the Super Bowl – but with a much more stringent system in place to detect any foul play in the sportsbooks, it could well be time to find a 200ft by 98ft patch of ice in the middle of the desert.
The big question however, is can Las Vegas sustain it, or will the novelty of NHL in Sin City simply melt?
That commercial on Super Bowl Sunday certainly reignited the fire for a team – after all, the city came close to a franchise just four years ago when the Phoenix Coyotes were toying with the idea of finding a new home 300 miles north.
Vegas is a city full of passionate ice hockey fans and many residents believe it’s the right time for a professional sports franchise. The target of the “Founding 75,” a special group of Vegas locals setup to acquire interest – and more importantly sell pre-season tickets for a potential new league team – are working hard this month to pick up 10,000 full season deposits to help acquire them full National Hockey League approval and backing.
That target has already passed the halfway stage, and that was reached just 48 hours into its season ticket drive. And while even if they reach the 10,000 it doesn’t necessarily mean the city will get a team, it certainly puts them in a strong position for Vegas getting its skates on in 2016.
The campaign to get Vegas hockey has been backed by numerous high-profile faces, with billionaire Bill Foley and the Maloof family, who have multiple investments in the city leading the charge, while Las Vegas resident and Canadian poker star Daniel Negreanu has been a big supporter of the idea.
The avid Toronto Maple Leafs fan said in a recent interview with The Star, “The town’s starving, absolutely starving, for a professional sports franchise.
“I’ve found the support to be overwhelming. People that live here, they’re dying for this.”
Something certainly needs to develop in the city. Citizens lost the Wranglers from the ECHL after being able to find an arena for this season, which won’t be an issue for a new team who will skate around the proposed MGM Resorts Anschutz Entertainment Group Arena.
But while the people in Vegas are dying for this according to Negreanu, so will be the vast amounts of tourists who touch down at McCarran every day. On an NHL night, the bars are full to the brim of cheering fans, and you only have to watch the influx of visitors into the city for the likes of boxing and the NASCAR Sprint Cup to see that people will travel in to watch the highest profile sports too. In fact, the announcement of the Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao fight for May 2 saw the MGM Grand sell out its 5,005 rooms in just 15 minutes.
Negreanu has been leading the campaign by preaching to his 340,000 Twitter followers to help reach the 10,000 season ticket holder mark, and the six time World Series of Poker bracelet winner believes it will create a real community spirit in the city.
Don’t wait. If you want hockey to happen in the Las Vegas community it’s up to you. We need to show the NHL there is support! — Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) February 10, 2015
The team behind Vegas wanting hockey are firm believers that it will improve community life in the city, with their website claiming it will have fans talking about it at the water cooler, and in the office just like you’d find in Toronto, Montreal, or LA.
However, it’s perhaps the support of one man who could be the most influential person behind the campaign, Wayne Gretzky. He’s the man who holds 60 NHL records including 894 goals in just 1,487 games. He’s a man worshipped by anyone that follows the sport meaning he could hold plenty of sway when it comes to decision time with the NHL.
The former Edmonton Oilers legend is working as an unofficial advisor to Foley, a man who he has a longstanding partnership having previously created a wine collection together. That is likely to aid in the 10,000 tickets getting snapped up, particularly with the NHL desperate to get The Great One back in the game.
Las Vegas isn’t a complete stranger to the NHL though, and should it get the go ahead it won’t be the first time the city has welcomed teams like the New York Rangers and LA Kings to the Strip. Since the early 1990s, the city has held Frozen Fury, with fans packing out the Thomas & Mack Center and MGM Grand to get their only taste of top-flight ice hockey, while hoping for a day it might finally be a permanent fixture.
One of the main issues that is facing the arrival of a franchise is the idea that Vegas just simply isn’t a hockey town. Negreanu, who is no stranger to the success of new ventures as a representative of PokerStars, an ever-growing brand that just recently expanded their offering to include casino games, believes this simply isn’t the case.
Writing in his Full Contact Poker blog, where he regularly touches on both ventures, he claimed that neither San Jose or Nashville were hockey fanatic cities until the Sharks and Predators arrived, and now the latter sits at the top in the Central Division, filling the Bridgestone Arena every game.
More and more information is being released every week as the campaign to bring major league sports to the Entertainment Capital of the World begins to hit full speed. Bill Foley has recently revealed he would be in favor of the Las Vegas Black Knights as a team name (in honor of the Army Black Knights dating back to his college days), although it’s unlikely we will have heard the last about naming franchises.
What we do know is that the NHL is all set to add two more teams by 2016, and at the moment it seems that Las Vegas and Seattle are the two leading the way. Kansas City, Portland, and Quebec City have all shown interest too, but with imperfect venues or lack of owners, none are really in the same shape to go ahead as right here in Nevada.
Foley and the Maloofs are willing to stump up the $450 million expansion fee, and the new arena is already underway. The season ticket drive is still running with fans still able to reserve their seats today by visiting vegaswantshockey.net. And with already half the tickets already sold, and tourism no doubt playing a huge part in game day, the city will have no problem at all keeping fans interested for many years to come.