As expected, the NHL announced yesterday that it will add an expansion franchise in Las Vegas in 2017, leading to celebration in that city and lots of derisive snorts from people who’ve noted that there are at least half a dozen bigger markets without NHL teams, most of which have a stronger history of hockey support than Vegas. (Seriously, Hartford has more TV households than Las Vegas.) What they don’t have, as I discussed last night in an article for Vice Sports, is a bunch of rich guys willing to sign a $500 million expansion fee check (at least not $500 million in U.S. dollars), and since the rich guys in question include one Florida financier and two Maloofs, there’s at least some suspicion that this is more an attempt to get into the NHL club than a long-term commitment to Las Vegas.
As for the arena angle, the new team (possibly to be called the Black Knights after owner Bill Foley’s financial company, but that’s yet to be decided) will play in T-Mobile Arena, which was privately built by MGM and AEG as part of Vegas’s arena land rush, and which is all new and shiny and apparently exciting to NHL bigwigs. What I haven’t been able to find any record of, probably because it’s a transaction between two private parties, is how much Foley and the Maloofs will be paying the arena as part of their lease, or how long the lease is for, all of which will have a huge impact on the team’s profitability, and on whether the Vegas franchise ends up there for the long haul or follows the Atlanta Thrashers into the long NHL history of failed experiments.
As for cities that didn’t get a team this time around, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman left the door wide open for further expansion, particularly citing the strength of the Quebec application, which was unfortunately undermined by the weakness of the Canadian dollar. Given the glut of billionaires compared to the limited number of major pro sports franchises, the NHL is clearly interested in following MLS’s lead and cashing in on expansion fees while the cashing is good — so if you have half a billion dollars burning a hole in your pocket and a desire to watch hockey from the owner’s box, give them a ring.