Why the NHL and Las Vegas are no easy match


The NHL is no longer denying that expansion is a possibility in the near-future.

Although hockey-loving fans in Quebec City have a franchise at the top of their wish list, not to mention a new arena nearing completion, it’s Las Vegas that’s ringing through in this latest round of expansion innuendo.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly spoke with Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune about the E-word, noting that current conference alignment could force the league to look West before considering a new franchise in the East.

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Hefty expansion fees and a new arena on the way make Las Vegas a very intriguing candidate.

Of course, the biggest question surrounding the potential of plopping a team in Nevada is whether or not there’s enough local interest to support a hockey team.

Tourism is and always will be the No. 1 industry in Las Vegas. The national average hotel occupancy for the United States is 62.3%, whereas the number in Las Vegas is 87.1% (figures). Daly knows you can’t bank a franchise’s survival on tourists, though.

“Clearly we think for a Las Vegas market to support a professional sports franchise, you need the support of locals,” Daly told Russo.

With construction on a $350 million, 20,000-seat arena by MGM Resorts underway, it’s that local support that Daly and Co. will have to focus on before moving forward on Las Vegas.

It could come down to how effectively the league can accommodate some special considerations that are unique to the city.

“The demographics of the market are pretty good in terms of average annual income,” Daly said. “Las Vegas natives earn good salaries, good livings. I think they genuinely like sports. It’s a nighttime city, so it would have to be uniquely scheduled in terms of focusing maybe on industry nights as opposed to your typical Thursday-Saturday nights where everybody would be working.”

In addition to catering to a “nighttime city,” there’s also the issue of gambling.

Daly insists NHL players are educated on the matter, and that both the home team and visiting hockey clubs can avoid trouble in that area. It’s not necessarily the players that the league would have to worry about, though. In order to ensure the long-term health of an organization in Las Vegas, Russo notes, the league may have to lobby for a prospective franchise’s games to be omitted from Vegas sports books.

It’s something that worked for the University of Nevada-Las Vegas men’s basketball and football teams until the year 2001, when a 40-year betting ban on Nevada teams was lifted. For what it’s worth, UNLV’s basketball team has been a regular fixture among the top-25 in home attendance over the past few years.

“You don’t want guys in the stands with bet tickets in their hands and the only reason they’re watching the game is so they can cash in on a bet afterwards. That’s not an environment you want to foster or create as a professional sports league,” Daly said.

Finding a medium between the gambling set and hockey hungry locals will be a challenge.

Your move, NHL.

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