The NHL is coming to Las Vegas, and not just for its award show.
On Thursday the league finally announced what was long known to be true, in a press conference completely lacking in classic Vegas pizazz. Instead of magic tricks and large dance numbers, we saw businessmen in suits talking about astronomically large numbers and offering really no other details about the team.
But one thing was made clear. People are excited about hockey in Las Vegas. Especially Gary Bettman.
“We think this is a tremendously exciting opportunity, both for the city of Las Vegas and the league,” he said yesterday.
Will Arnett made a joke at last night’s NHL awards, more or less saying that as a Maple Leafs fan, he’ll be mad if Vegas wins a Cup before Toronto. One person who wouldn’t be mad about that is Bettman. He seems fully on board with the move (how could you not with a $500 million expansion fee).
But more than that, Bettman likes being first and he knows the NFL and NBA are both eying the city with the same dollar sign eyes he was.
Bettman made sure to mention as much when he reminded everyone that this announcement marked “the arrival of the first major professional sports team in the vibrant, growing, global destination city that is Las Vegas.”
NHL is front page news in Vegas pic.twitter.com/BlHDTq5MFb
— Michael Traikos (@Michael_Traikos) June 23, 2016
It’s easy to see the potential with a city like Las Vegas too. According to Forbes, Las Vegas is the 18th fastest growing city in the U.S., seeing its population increase by two per cent year over year.
On a more specific level, a lot of hockey fans already live in Vegas. Michael Traikos who covers the NHL for Postmedia interviewed locals about hockey in the desert. He found that most residents have moved to Vegas from other places in North America and many, including the mayor, were hockey fans in their former cities.
While the excitement is certainly there, I remain skeptical of this adventure into the desert. Getting a team is one thing but success on the ice is another. The Arizona Coyotes have been in the desert since 1996 and we speculate annually about when that team is moving to Quebec City. While the expansion rules are expected to help Vegas start with some significant players, the win now mentality certainly applies.
I can’t believe I’m quoting him, but when it comes to sports Donald Trump is right. No one likes to lose. And to keep the Vegas hockey team from being just another show in a crowded city, there needs to be some winning. A playoff spot in the first three-to-five years almost seems mandatory.
How that happens, I have no idea. We don’t even know what the team will be called yet. Or who will be the GM. Or coach.
Regardless of the excitement, it’s way to early to say whether hockey will be a success in Vegas.
But, I will admit, it’s nice to see the NHL be first in something.