The NHL would like to put the Phoenix Coyotes saga behind them. Whether they like to admit it or not, the market has been a constant headache for over a decade, and even with new ownership there is still the uncertainty over that five year out clause to consider. However, while the NHL hasn’t officially announced any expansion plans, The Globe and Mail’s Dave Shoalts reports that the Board of Governors have a short list of candidate cities for expansion within the next five years.
First on the list is Seattle. This is really not a surprise, as rumors had many believing had the Coyotes saga not ended in a vote in favor of keeping the team in Glendale, they were likely moving up north to Seattle. There is still an arena to build, but Seattle is a potentially solid market for the NHL to grow.
After making a big mistake in the desert, the Pacific Northwest seems like a safe idea. That is why I am flabbergasted as to how the second city on the list is Las Vegas. According to Shoalts, Gary Bettman has met with two potential ownership groups to discuss expanding to Sin City.
I can understand why Vegas seems like an attractive option to the NHL. They would be the first and only league out of the big four to attempt to put a franchise there. You have expensive hotels who will likely comp tickets to their high roller guests, who will in turn spend bundles of money at the arena. Or at least that’s the idea.
The only problem is, putting a team in Vegas is like plopping a team down in the middle of Walt Disney World. You’re there to see Mickey and Goofy, not a hockey team. While there are no other professional sports teams to compete with, the NHL will be up against the wide array of entertainment options available in Vegas. If you have a weekend to spend on the strip, are you going to spend four hours of it at a hockey game?
Not everyone in Vegas is there on vacation, as the city is home to more than 500,000 residents. However, the unemployment rate is hovering around 8-10% and those who do have jobs often work at night at the casinos. Unless these games will be taking place in the afternoon, and good portion of potential home grown fans will be working when the puck is dropped.
Shoalts discussed the Vegas plans on yesterday’s Marek vs Wyshynski podcast and said that this could be one of the stranger fan environments in sports. Hotels will likely comp a large portion of the tickets each night. Whether those fans actually show up is unknown, so you make have every ticket sold but only 5,000 people in the crowd. Most fans will be there on vacation and likely at the game to see the visiting team. The other majority will be those who have money on the game.
I am somewhat skeptical of these reports and honestly think the NHL might have some other motives in allowing this information to get out. It is well known that in the next 3-5 years Quebec City will have a brand new arena ready to go. This entire Vegas idea smells like a ploy by the NHL to get a few more bucks out of Quebec City when it comes time for expansion fees. The Phoenix Coyotes situation was an embarrassing headache for the NHL, and I cannot believe they would jump right back into another team in the desert.