Las Vegas can now boast that it’s a big league town — almost.
According to multiple media reports, the only thing standing in the way of a National Hockey League expansion team finding a home at the T-Mobile Arena is formal approval from the league’s board of governors and payment of a $500 million expansion fee.
Businessman and prospective team owner Bill Foley has gathered season ticket deposits from 14,000 people and hasn’t flinched at the league’s hefty entry fee. He has also promised to build a $17 million practice facility in Summerlin and make it available to the public when not in use by the team.
Robert Lang, the director of Brookings Mountain West, said he is excited about having a big league sports team in Las Vegas for several reasons. One of the biggest reasons is it changes how the city is perceived.
"It changes the view on Las Vegas this way: There was an assumption that perhaps Las Vegas, because of its core industry that included sports book, was excluded from the family of cities that had big league sports due to that industry alone. Well, that's now false," he said.
He said Las Vegas is now just another big city with an exceptionally good market because besides the 2 million people who live here, there are 40 million people who visit here every year.
Geoff Freeman, the president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, agreed. He also said besides the team being a good idea for Las Vegas, it is good for the gaming industry as a whole.
"I think the NHL being the first of the major leagues to locate a team in Las Vegas sends a pretty clear message that this industry has come into the mainstream," he said.
Freeman believes the NHL move to Las Vegas will help efforts to legalize sports betting operations around the country.
However, Las Vegas does not have a great track record when it comes to supporting sports teams. The history of the city is littered with failed franchises from the XFL to the minor league hockey.
Adam Hill is a sports reporter for Las Vegas Review-Journal. He has questions about just how good of fans Las Vegans will be.
"I would make the argument that the fans are largely bandwagon-type fans who when the team is really good they go and when it's not they don't," he said. He pointed to the UNLV football team as an example of that.
Hill believes the NFL would do well in Las Vegas because with so few games on the schedule each game is an event.
He thinks Las Vegas residents will go to NHL games for the first couple of years but soon after they'll stop going unless the team excels.
"They'll go just to see the arena and to see the spectacle of a major league franchise," Hill said, "But I do question what it will be five years in if they're not a great team what will it be then?"
Lang said the tourists will add another layer of support to the team, even if a Las Vegas fans don't come when the team isn't very good. He said the fans of teams that are playing in Las Vegas will come here to watch.
Robert Lang, director, Brookings Mountain West; Adam Hill, Las Vegas Review-Journal sports reporter and radio commentator, Geoff Freeman, American Gaming Association CEO
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