NHL in Las Vegas future should be known soon

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. (Richard Drew/AP)

The Las Vegas season-ticket campaign is now into its fourth week and hasn’t reach a goal of 10,000 deposits, but that doesn’t seem to be any cause for concern at the top levels of the NHL.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

Prospective owner Bill Foley has provided regular progress updates to the league office and is due to fly to New York to meet with commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly in the near future. He should find an enthusiastic audience.

Foley’s group had received about 7,700 commitments by the end of last week and that didn’t even include tickets requested by the casinos.

“The numbers that are coming out are … within very strict parameters,” Daly told me Wednesday in Toronto. “When they designed their ticket drive, they did it with our input and basically we told them what we’d like to see is how many local, non-corporate fans they can get to put up real money without a promise of having a NHL team.

“If you look at it through that lens, I think the response has been good. Because if you add to that what they probably have already in corporate and casino commitments, they basically have a full building.”

Fans have been asked to place deposits ranging from $150 to $900 while entering what amounts to a contract. In the event Las Vegas is awarded a NHL team for the 2016-17 season, they are on the hook for season tickets.

More than 5,000 commitments were received within the first two days and the pace has slowed since. However, the numbers have gone steadily up throughout the process.

“I think there has been a surge of enthusiastic support for the effort,” said Daly. “They may have sold some big blocks that the parameters don’t really give them credit for. The thing that we’re most interested in, in terms of the whole ticket drive, is your average person who works and lives in Vegas. Are they willing to support a hockey team? Are they enthusiastic about doing it? Are they enthusiastic enough to part with real money with no commitment on a team?

“When you think about it, that’s a pretty tall order.”

The Vegas tickets range in price from $20 to $220 per game and deposits carry one-, three-, five- and 10-year terms. In December, Foley told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that he promised the NHL he’d keep his average seat at $65, which is roughly the current midpoint league-wide.

Assisting the campaign is an influential group called the “Las Vegas Founding 75” — Canadian poker player Daniel Negreanu, UFC president Dana White and boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. are among them — which is comprised of members who have committed to helping sell 60 deposits each.

Foley is also doing his part to drum up interest. A man who built his fortune in finance and the wine business has recently been making the rounds in Las Vegas and is encouraged by what he sees.

“We’re very confident we’re going to get there,” Foley told Fox 5 on Friday. “We just want to keep this momentum we have going, keep on getting these deposits and get to 10,000. Then once we get 10,000, get to 10,500 or 11,000 — really demonstrate to the league that Las Vegas is a hockey city and it’s ready for NHL hockey here hopefully in the ’16 season.”

Bettman is reserving judgment until he sees how everything plays out. No official timetable has been placed on the length of the season-ticket campaign, but he expects that its success or failure will be evident sooner rather later.

“If we’re still having this discussion in September and they haven’t achieved their objectives, then I think that will speak for itself,” said Bettman. “If, in fact, the interest isn’t there then he’s going to stop pursuing it and that’ll be the end of it,” he added. “If the interest is there it’ll be a good telling point for us that there’s some vibrancy for professional sports in Las Vegas. But again that presumes that we’re in a process or we’re further along in a process than we are.

“We’re just listening right now.”

Meanwhile, there doesn’t seem to be much brewing with the other potential NHL cities. Seattle mayor Ed Murray told council last week that he will seek to have an arena deal amended to allow for a NHL tenant before a NBA one, but what Bettman and the board of governors are waiting for is a plan to start seeing it actually get built.

Once that happens, the NHL commissioner “intuitively” believes there won’t be any need to test the marketplace with a season-ticket drive.

“We haven’t studied it, but I don’t think there are as many questions about a Seattle or a Quebec City the way there are about Vegas,” said Bettman.

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