Las Vegas finally has a professional sports team. With the help of the NHL, the Golden Knights are scheduled to begin play in 2017. Las Vegas is one of the most popular cities in the United States. Known for its exotic casinos and resorts on the famous “strip,” will Sin City be able to support a professional sports franchise?
Will fans in Las Vegas attend the games?
There are several things to be concerned about when it comes to fan support. Las Vegas is not new to the concept of a sports franchise relocating elsewhere. For example, the Gladiators lasted from 2003-07. This was the second of three failed attempts with the Arena Football League. The first attempt lasted from 1994-95: the Las Vegas Sting. The third and final attempt lasted only one year: the 2015 Las Vegas Outlaws.
The National Football League expressed interest in Las Vegas over the last couple of years. Oakland Raiders’ owner Mark Davis is strongly considering relocating there, but Vegas could not even support an AFL franchise. What makes anyone think they can support an NFL franchise; one of the most popular ones at that?
There are other examples of sports franchises failing in Sin City. From basketball to soccer to football, tenures in Las Vegas were not long lasting. Financial troubles were a major reason for a lack of longevity. Fan support was the main reason. Truth be told, people in Vegas did not generally care. That is a fair assumption to make because of how long each franchise stayed in existence.
The NHL is not new to Las Vegas.
Back to hockey. The NHL’s interest in Las Vegas began in 1991. A preseason game between the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers took place at the Caesars Palace. The success of this game transformed a one time occasion into a yearly tradition. Since 1997, Vegas hosted one Kings preseason game [primarily against the Colorado Avalanche] known as “Frozen Fury.”
The preseason game from 1991 is also cited as the inspiration for the creation of the annual “Winter Classic” game. Las Vegas has not hosted this event yet. That is likely subject to change now that the NHL will exist there.
It’s one thing to sell tickets for an annual preseason game or a Winter Classic game. Can Las Vegas support an NHL franchise for an entire regular season? This is the question that needs to be answered. It is unknown whether they can or not.
What about sports betting and gambling?
The NHL broke ground by becoming the first major American sports league to establish itself in Las Vegas. Is there a problem with that? The fact that all four major sports leagues have strict policies regarding anti-gambling is the problem. Las Vegas has been historically avoided because of this very reason. The gambling capital of the world never had a good reputation among the league owners.
The NFL was the strictest of the four major leagues; they still are. In recent years, however, the perception of Las Vegas slightly improved for the better. As mentioned earlier, the Raiders are expressing interest in Las Vegas as their newest home. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver went on record and stated he is in favor of legalizing sports gambling. This is still a tender issue despite the growing optimism about professional sports thriving out of Vegas.
The Western Conference now has 15 teams, compared to the Eastern Conference’s 16.
This could be considered an inconsequential point to make. The Golden Knights are the 31st team in the NHL. They will be inserted into the league’s Western Conference prior to the 2017-18 season. The west will now have 15 teams compared to the 16 in the east.
This is the first step toward a true balance of the teams in each conference. Could this still create problems for the schedule makers? 31 is an odd number. Odd numbered leagues are tougher to handle, for those who make the schedules. Sooner or later, there will need to be another expansion team inserted into the Western Conference to balance things out again. Maybe Seattle?
Again, this might not be too much of a concern to the league. Just something to think about considering the number is now odd.
All of these points are food for thought. Can the NHL ultimately succeed in Las Vegas? It has the potential to. Vegas is one of the most popular cities in the United States. Tourist attractions are all over the place. Professional sports will finally exist there. Sports fans have a reason to go to Sin City other than blowing hundreds of dollars at Casinos. Hockey fans within close proximity do not have to travel to California, Arizona or Canada to see a game anymore.
Don’t forget about the media attention. The Golden Knights will get plenty of initial attention. Their success on the ice will determine whether they keep it. Las Vegas is a big enough city to, in theory, support an NHL franchise.
With that being said, the concerns laid out above should not be taken lightly. A city could have 15 million residents, but that does not mean overwhelming fan support is inevitable. Las Vegas is a bit different from the rest. The culture and lifestyle differentiates them from the others. Lastly, lower level sports failed there in the past.
With this being said, we owe it to Las Vegas and the National Hockey League to at least let them try. It might not work, but let’s not already assume it will fail. Only time will tell.