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Is the NHL getting closer to putting a team in Vegas?

Dec 18, 2013, 12:43 PM EDT

Vegas arena

TSN’s Bob McKenzie has the hockey world buzzing about Las Vegas after uttering the following last night on TV:

There are no formal plans for expansion but if they expand and everyone assumes at some point, they’re going to, the common knowledge is that Seattle is the primary target in the Pacific Northwest. The strong sense I’m getting now is that Las Vegas is second on that list behind Seattle and the NHL wants to be the first major professional sports league to put a franchise in Las Vegas. People in Quebec City may be saying, ‘Hey, what about us?’ Well, keep in mind, there’s no rule that says if they expand, that they only expand by two teams. The possibility of expanding by three teams, with Quebec City being one of them, is at least something that will be considered. There’s lots of money in expansion; over $300 million per franchise, close to a $1 billion windfall that isn’t shared with the players or anyone else, just the owners.

We’ve written about the potential of Las Vegas as an NHL market before. In June, it was announced that AEG and MGM Resorts International had teamed up to build a 20,000-seat arena near the city’s famous Strip. As of November, construction was slated to start in April of 2014, with the arena opening in early 2016.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has touted Las Vegas as a potential major-league market in the past.

“Some league will be here,” Bettman said back in 2009. “Somebody’s going to be first, but the stadium/arena issues, I think until they resolve, will preclude any serious consideration.”

Expanding to Seattle and Las Vegas would also bring the Western Conference up to 16 teams, the same as the current Eastern Conference, while allowing teams like Detroit and Columbus to remain in the East.

Related:

Bettman mum on expansion, but Quebec City makes too much sense

Report: Maloofs met with Bettman about buying an NHL team

  1. stonebullet - Dec 18, 2013 at 12:49 PM

    Move the Panthers to Quebec, expand to Seattle and Vegas.

    • indycarseries500 - Dec 18, 2013 at 12:55 PM

      The Panthers got a good thing going with their arena lease and all that, they aren’t going anywhere.

  2. WillIEverSeeACupInMyLife? - Dec 18, 2013 at 12:49 PM

    Why not? It seems to be working in Phoenix…….

    • esracerx46 - Dec 18, 2013 at 1:43 PM

      I think the only logical reason for the talk of expanding to Vegas is to get a better deal from Seattle. Seattle makes so much sense, but if Seattle has another city pressuring them for a franchise, they may be more apt to sweeten the deal one way or another. I really hope Bettman isn’t dumb enough to actually go to Vegas. But….look who were talking about..

      • endusersolutions2013 - Dec 18, 2013 at 2:32 PM

        4 reasons for Portland vs. Las Vegas.

        A. Portland has a bigger fan base
        B Oregon residents are more focused on winter sports than Nevada
        C. Having 3 teams in the Portland, Seattle, Vancouver area would generate better attendance for all 3 because of the far simpler/quicker travel options.
        D. Portland does not have the obvious gambling/vice/”shady organization” implications.

  3. westinpat - Dec 18, 2013 at 12:59 PM

    Weren’t there talks about moving Pittsburgh to Las Vegas years ago when they weren’t doing so well?

    • nj666 - Dec 18, 2013 at 1:08 PM

      you mean over a decade ago?

      • thailer35 - Dec 18, 2013 at 1:13 PM

        You mean almost a decade ago?

      • westinpat - Dec 18, 2013 at 1:17 PM

        Has it been that long?

    • narfmoo12 - Dec 18, 2013 at 2:13 PM

      Yeah right before the NHL gave them the top pick in 2003 and 2005, with the 2nd overall pick in 2004 sandwiched between them.

      • narfmoo12 - Dec 18, 2013 at 2:14 PM

        Wow… and the 2nd pick in 2006. I forgot about Staal. So four years in a row the Penguins were picking in the top 2, and suddenly the fans returned and they weren’t moving to Kansas City anymore.

      • killerpgh - Dec 18, 2013 at 6:24 PM

        The Pens traded up to the number 1 pick in 03, but don’t let facts get in the way of a good story. And that damn NHL that was giving the Penguins all that help also had the Cap wins the lottery in the 04 draft and the Pens ended up drafting 2nd when they had the worst record in the League that year….some great help, right? But hey, it your story you can tell it anyway you want.

      • mmmpierogi - Dec 18, 2013 at 11:36 PM

        “…suddenly the fans returned and they weren’t moving to Kansas City anymore.”

        Fans didn’t “suddenly return,” as if attendance rates dropped so staggeringly low (in such a short time, nonetheless) as to be the cause around the moving to KC talk. Attendance *did* decline during the years when the team was performing poorly, but not at a significantly greater rate than would be expected among teams exhibiting similar trends in performance (feel free to look at the numbers; you’ll find plenty of evidence of it elsewhere, including metros larger than Pittsburgh and those that have larger-capacity venues than Civic/Mellon Arena during the time period you reference).

      • narfmoo12 - Dec 19, 2013 at 11:52 AM

        Honestly didn’t remember the trade. The Penguins “earned” only the 3rd pick in 2003. So four Top 3 picks in a row. Also, in 2003-04, the Penguins averaged less than 12,000 fans per game, or 3,000 less than the year before, and 5,000 less than when they were winning at the Igloo. When the Flyers were garbage in 2006-07, they averaged 98.9% capacity. Clearly one city is full of bandwagon fans, while one is an actual hockey town. But, I’m sorry to bring actual facts to the table as well.

  4. multiplemiggs - Dec 18, 2013 at 12:59 PM

    Panthers are staying put. Quebec HAD. a team and the city lost them. Too bad so sad. Seattle, Portland and Vegas are next in line. Sorry Markham and Quebec, no one wants to watch your crappy expansion teams there mock the NHL and destroy our ratings. Waaah waaah waaaaah.

    • comeonnowguys - Dec 18, 2013 at 2:01 PM

      Yes, because Florida is packing them in.

      Then again, attendance clearly doesn’t matter, otherwise Phoenix would have moved long ago.

      • greatmiamisportsmind - Dec 18, 2013 at 8:21 PM

        The attendance the other night at BB&T Center was over 15,000.

        The Panthers would draw more fans if
        A. They got arid if the Club Red (3 sections directly behind the benches. The average ticket price is $400 each. Why on earth would anyone pay that when you can pay 1/5 of the price a section over?

        B. They made the playoffs more than once in the past 12 seasons, plus a missed a locked out year. Go back and check your facts that BB&T Center was 97.3% filled the following year after they made the playoffs.

        C. This new owner actually spends a dime to help make this team a competitive franchise. Which, he has shown in the short time he has owned them.

    • narfmoo12 - Dec 18, 2013 at 2:44 PM

      Your lack of knowledge regarding the mid-1990s is astounding. The reason that Quebec and Winnipeg lost their teams was that the Canadian dollar was worth 60 cents in America. Now that the two currencies are about even, the Canadian teams aren’t at a disadvantage.

  5. pitpenguinsrulez - Dec 18, 2013 at 1:01 PM

    Vegas might actually sell well. They do a great job with NASCAR races at Las Vegas Motorspeedway, so I don’t think they’d have an issue. Plus Vegas doesn’t have pro sports in it from either of the Big 4. So they’d probably do good.

    • nj666 - Dec 18, 2013 at 1:10 PM

      they do great with nascar because there are a lot of good ol boys out there in the desert.

      • jpelle82 - Dec 18, 2013 at 1:38 PM

        that and its an excuse for rednecks to go to vegas for a weekend and get drunk.

    • nothanksimdriving123 - Dec 18, 2013 at 3:49 PM

      Pitpen says: Plus Vegas doesn’t have pro sports in it from either of the Big 4.
      It doesn’t have major league teams, but it does have minor league baseball, basketball and football. It has the AAA baseball LV 51s, and UNLV hoops and football, and in the US, NCAA is pretty much the equivalent of minor league pros in those sports. The athletes don’t officially get paid, but tickets go for $50-$100 and up, and players for the top teams don’t exactly ride broken down buses to distant games.
      That said, expansion for the NHL would be a very good way for current owners to grab some cash, and would be very bad for the caliber of the actual hockey on the ice. And I don’t recall seeing any great clamor from Nevada fans for hockey. When they rally like Winnipeg, we can talk.

  6. Shanahammer - Dec 18, 2013 at 1:05 PM

    Typical NHL one step forward and two steps back….

  7. alexo0 - Dec 18, 2013 at 1:06 PM

    Just what the league needs to do, water down the talent level by three more teams. If I’m an owner of a struggling team, I push hard for expansion, collect my free money, and then shortly after that. Expansion is a pure cash grab.

  8. mclovinhockey - Dec 18, 2013 at 1:24 PM

    Yes, about 10 years ago the pens were being talked about moving to Vegas… Then Gary saved them like he is trying to do to the yotes…. I am all for teams in Markham and QC, especially QC since the reason they lost the team was more due to ownership, but I am 100% against expansion.

  9. LampyB - Dec 18, 2013 at 1:27 PM

    Yeah I’m not happy about the talent pool decreasing. Three teams will add way too many more mediocre players and the only viable market that makes sense is Seattle.

  10. jpelle82 - Dec 18, 2013 at 1:37 PM

    i would think there would be all kinds of issues for a team in vegas. there’s gotta be a reason there hasnt been major teams there in the past. i figure its because no one who lives in vegas is from vegas and most of their economy is from people just coming to visit. there’s an overwhelming amount of stuff to do in vegas already, the competition for ticket sales would have to be high. that and its not the most affluent area of the country. off the strip and in nevada its got high crime (2nd worst state in the nation), low cost of living, highest unemployment in the country, the worst housing collapse in the country and not that much of a middle to upper class anymore that would typically make up the hockey fanbase.

    • endusersolutions2013 - Dec 18, 2013 at 2:34 PM

      good points

    • micasa81 - Dec 18, 2013 at 3:19 PM

      Exactly what I was thinking. There’s more working against Vegas than the typical “hockey’s a hard sell in the sunbelt” arguments. I’d also add that, while Vegas was growing like a weed a few years ago, it’s growing much less quickly now, making its relatively small metro population of 2 million that much more of a negative. Just for perspective, the Phoenix area has roughly double the population of Vegas.

  11. ironyisadeadscene - Dec 18, 2013 at 1:44 PM

    Sweet, another place to hold an outdoor games. They can add another to the schedule for that year and bring the number to an even 20

  12. endusersolutions2013 - Dec 18, 2013 at 3:00 PM

    Once again, talk about expansion and nothing about league conference balancing.

    Bob M’s thought is crazy – 33 teams. Things are already a mess with uneven conferences, now he wants to have a division with 1 extra team? And of course nothing about the talent pool being able to handle a 10% expansion and still have a quality product. Organized hockey across the USA has been expanding, with more USA born players in the NHL and minors year by year.

    Quebec City and Markham may well be able to support a team, and those are best left as an alternative host to a failing EC team for the foreseeable future. Nothing personal canooks, just a reality about the existing league imbalance.

    Seattle is 15th in US Metro area size. Portland is 24th, KC is 30th, Vegas is 31st. Portland is also growing faster.

    Economically, KC is lower in per-capita economic strength. In terms of economic growth, among US metro areas, Seattle is 20th, Portland 29th, KC 66th, LV is 99th.

    Puttung teams in Seattle and Portland also creates natural rivalries and thus increased attendance at mutual games between those two and Vancouver.

    Bottom line, from the perspectives of fan base and economic growth, along with conference and division balancing, the only well thought through approach is to expand into Seattle and Portland – then wait a few years.

    • micasa81 - Dec 18, 2013 at 3:40 PM

      One thing I’d disagree with is the expansion strategy. Well, it’s not exactly disagreeing with you – I agree that the league really needs to try and balance out the teams in the conferences – so much as acknowledging the decision-making factors at work with the NHL owners. They do not want a relocation happening to Southern Ontario; they want expansion there. The reason: it’s hands-down the best “untapped” market in terms of future viability of a team, and therefore any prospective ownership group will be most willing/able to pay the big expansion fee. Considering that any relocation deal would be a windfall if it even garnered 2/3 the purchase price of an expansion fee, the league sees relocation to that particular market as flushing money down the toilet. That’s less the case with Quebec City, but arguably it’s still a surer bet, success-wise, than any potential American city. Basically, the places most likely to be able to succeed after ponying up the big bucks for the expansion fee, will be the places the NHL tries to avoid for relocation. That’s exactly what we witnessed with the NHL shutting down Balsillie a few years ago when he tried to buy the Coyotes and swoop them off to Southern Ontario, and I’m sure they’d do it again.

      • endusersolutions2013 - Dec 18, 2013 at 3:51 PM

        Sure, If there was a single EC team to be re-located, then one NW USA and one E Canadian expansion would be just as valid. Just keep it balanced.

      • endusersolutions2013 - Dec 18, 2013 at 3:53 PM

        Left out but meant that the team from the EC being re-located goes to Seattle or Portland. I live in the midwest and always have, so I have no localized agenda, just a fan of the game, who also thinks analytically.

  13. joey4id - Dec 18, 2013 at 6:48 PM

    oy vey! I can just see the visiting team’s players hanging out on the strip as the wait for game night. Sin city here we come. Heck! Imagine the home town boys. It won’t be long before we start hearing about the wild stories coming out of Vegas. Idle hands are a devil’s worship.

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