Last week NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said that it was unlikely the 30-member board of governors will vote on placing an expansion team in Las Vegas at their December 7–8 meeting in Pebble Beach. The next opportunity to vote on expansion will be over the All-Star weekend, January 30–31, 2016.
What makes this different from the typical major league scam of using Las Vegas to — I won’t say blackmail...let’s say leverage an owner’s home city into handing over great gobs of money, is that, this time, the prospect of putting an NHL franchise in Las Vegas is real.
The front man for the proposed new franchise is Bill Foley, chairman of the board of Fidelity National Financial (FNF). The Jacksonville, Florida, outfit “is the United States’ largest provider of commercial and residential mortgage and diversified services.”
According to the FNF website, Foley’s “additional professional directorships include Winter Sports, Inc.; Remy International, Inc.; Ceridian Corporation; Fidelity Newport Holdings, LLC.; and J. Alexander’s LLC.”...and he is ranked by Golf Digest as one of the top five executive golfers in the world. Best of all, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that Foley bought a house in Las Vegas and his wife bought a new car. In other words, he’s another blow-in. Not a problem in Vegas.
Right now, a $375 million sports arena is being built, with private money, to NHL specs, that seats 17,500 for hockey and is located on the Strip. The Las Vegas Arena will be up and running by April 2016.
MGM Resorts International and the Anschutz Entertainment Group are building the arena. AEG owns the Los Angeles Kings and will run the place when it opens. Foley has already negotiated a lease to play in the building and has banked near 14,000 season-ticket deposits.
It’s known, as well as you can know these things, that the NHL wants to expand by two teams. The buy-in is expected to be $500 million for each franchise. Two franchises equals $1 billion split between 30 owners who, happily, don’t have to share with players.
Fear of Vegas gambling is passing. DraftKings has left the NFL without an excuse to oppose sports betting, although getting them to admit that will take huge money. Huge money is coming. NBA commissioner Adam Silver endorsed regulated sports betting in a New York Times opinion piece.
Investopedia reports, ”With a 2010 metropolitan statistical area (MSA) population of nearly 2 million, Las Vegas is the 30th largest city in the United States. The city’s MSA population puts it in the same peer group as Cleveland, Kansas City, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis.”
Two million metro population, an owner with big bucks, a state-of-the-art arena to play in, and 14,000 season tickets spoken for. You’d assume placing an NHL team in Vegas is a lock.
Except...think Las Vegas and you don’t think of hockey. According to research done by FiveThirtyEight.com, “the break-even level of local fandom for a profitable franchise was about 300,000 to 400,000 fans... Teams in markets with fewer than 300,000 hockey fans, however, have tended to lose money... Las Vegas would be a disaster. According to our estimates, there are only 91,000 hockey fans in the Vegas media market...”
Plus, the Las Vegas Arena is located on the Strip. I’ve lived in Vegas, actually, I lived there on three occasions. It’s just a city. The slot machines in Vons are against the wall by the distilled water. You have your miserable job, domestic mate, Home Depot on the weekends, trouble with the in-laws, softball leagues, the normal dreck of daily life. After work the last thing a local wants to do is go to the Strip. Residents go years, decades, without setting foot on Las Vegas Boulevard.
Using Vegas gross population numbers is misleading. The top six employers in Las Vegas are casinos. They account for 125,000 jobs.
Casinos are 24-hour-a-day outfits that support a 24-hour-a-day ecosystem built to serve their shift workers. Everything from 7-Elevens, bars, restaurants, Laundromats, grocery stores, auto mechanics, college classes, and dental offices (visit a dentist after work and save those sick days for hangovers and impromptu road trips) employ shift workers. So, while the metro population might be two million, and there might be 91,000 hockey fans within that two million, a large portion of that 91,000 won’t be able to attend hockey games.
Saying that, Foley has one killer card left to play. More than 40 million people a year visit Las Vegas. Here’s the bet: Can Foley cull enough stragglers from the herd and make his nut?