A person with direct knowledge of the NHL’s decision says the league has settled on Las Vegas as its choice for expansion, provided organizers can come up with a $500 million US fee.
The person spoke Tuesday on condition of anonymity because details have not been released by the league ahead of its Board of Governors meeting on June 22 in Las Vegas. Quebec City was also considered for expansion.
A second person who had been briefed on the decision said Las Vegas was a “done deal” following the recommendation of the NHL’s executive committee.
This has been in the works for a while now, though no one could actually believe that the NHL would go ahead with adding just a single team (resulting in continued unbalanced divisions), and that it would be in Las Vegas, of all places. I mean, nothing against Las Vegas, but it’s a very small city, and anything but a hockey hotbed, and — you know what, let’s let Nate Silver tell it, as he did in April 2015 and reprinted yesterday at Fivethirtyeight:
The city has had several professional sports franchises (albeit none from the four or five largest North American sports leagues), and it hasn’t supported them very well.
Consider that the city’s Triple-A baseball franchise, the Las Vegas 51s of the Pacific Coast League, had the lowest attendance in the PCL last year.
Or that the city’s professional hockey franchise, the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL, disbanded earlier this year after years of middling attendance and an inability to find a suitable home arena.
The Las Vegas Gladiators of the Arena Football League were relocated to Cleveland in 2007 after five seasons of attendance well below AFL averages. Las Vegas has a new AFL team this season, the Las Vegas Outlaws, but their attendance was poor in their first two games…
If the city has some positives, it also has some negatives, like irregular working hours, middling public transit and abundant competition for the entertainment dollar, which may depress sports attendance.
To their credit, the backers of the Las Vegas NHL franchise, after a monthslong campaign, have gotten commitments from about 11,000 would-be season ticket holders. That sounds impressive until you consider that the Winnipeg Jets sold out their entire allotment of 13,000 season tickets in 17 minutes after the Atlanta Thrashers were relocated there in 2011. Hockey’s a bit more popular on the frozen tundra than in the middle of the desert.
Gary Bettman has spent his entire career as NHL commissioner devoted to the idea that he can increase the value of the league by expanding to areas where people traditionally don’t like hockey, and despite all signs that this was a terrible idea, he’s doubling down on it with this move. At least the other 30 NHL owners will get to pocket half a billion dollars in expansion fees, I guess, but running a league as a Ponzi scheme is … actually, a long NHL tradition, so forget I said anything.