Vegas gets NHL team!
The T-Mobile Arena on the Las Vegas Strip hopes to be the home of an NHL expansion team. Ethan Miller/Getty Images for MGM Resorts International
The 2017-18 season is the earliest the league would expand.
The franchise would be the NHL's 31st team and the first major professional sports franchise in Las Vegas, the rapidly growing gambling center of the American West.
The NHL hasn't expanded since 2000, when Minnesota and Columbus paid $80 million each to join the league. Prospective Vegas owner Bill Foley is a wealthy businessman who isn't likely to blink at the elevated price tag previously proposed by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman as an expansion fee.
The Las Vegas bid says it has secured more than 14,000 season-ticket deposits for the new team, which will play in T-Mobile Arena, the sparkling new multipurpose building on the south end of the Las Vegas Strip. The arena, which seats 17,500 for hockey, was built entirely with private money by MGM Resorts International and Anschutz Entertainment Group, the owners of theLos Angeles Kings.
The Las Vegas area had nearly 2.2 million people in the 2010 census, making it the largest population center in the U.S. without a major pro sports franchise. Public support for Foley's bid has been robust, and the NHL has noticed the appeal of being the only big sports show in a town that loves a big event.
"This could be a watershed moment for our community and sports in Southern Nevada," said Jonas Peterson, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance. "Having a professional hockey team will not only boost our economy, but also our sense of community pride."
Mayor Carolyn Goodman said she couldn't confirm the expansion but said she senses a "great probability" for the decision because of a shift in the conversation in the past two weeks.
Said Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak, the first person to make a deposit on season tickets: "I'm excited, but I'm waiting for the official announcement from the NHL. Las Vegas has been waiting for this for decades. We're a major league city. We deserve major league sports."
The days when sports leagues were wary of the potential corruption in Vegas' massive sports betting scene are apparently finished, making the city an attractive candidate for sports looking to get in on a growing market.
The Oakland Raiders have held serious discussions with Vegas leaders in recent months about a move to Nevada, with owner Mark Davis suggesting that he and his partners, including casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, could build a $1.4 billion domed stadium near the Strip with substantial public money.
English soccer superstar David Beckham met with the group in April, and he suggested Vegas would be a candidate for an MLS team with that new field. In February, MLS had ruled out Las Vegas as a potential expansion location as the soccer league looks to grow to 28 teams in the future.
But Foley and the NHL have been working on a deal for much longer to bring hockey to the city, with the enormous advantage of an NHL-ready building freshly opened in town. T-Mobile Arena had its grand opening April 6 with a concert featuring Wayne Newton and the Killers, and Canelo Alvarez knocked out Amir Khan in a middleweight title bout on May 7 in the arena's first competitive sporting event.
The NHL has debated expansion for a few years, with Seattle and the Toronto suburbs also generating interest for another team. Bettman has said he doesn't worry about the league's product suffering from dilution. But Foley has always been the leader, with the league accepting a $2 million deposit and thoroughly vetting his financial plans last year.