Vegas has always lived on the fringe of pro sports. It’s home to an oft-forgotten minor league baseball franchise, UNLV, and of course, the American capital of sports betting in The Strip. It is at once a major part of the sports world, and also a satellite in terms of direct participation.
That dichotomy will officially end in October 2017, when an expansion NHL franchise will lace up skates in Las Vegas’s shiny new multipurpose venue, T-Mobile Arena. The arena opened in April with a slate almost entirely comprised of big name concerts. Hockey will start play this coming October, with a four-game set of exhibition games to test the arena’s ice making capability (didn’t the season end, Sharks? *sigh*).
And with that, the test of Vegas as a sports market will finally begin. The as-yet unnamed hockey team will benefit from a honeymoon period fueled by a 13,000-season ticket pledge drive. They’ll also have a first-mover advantage for at least a few years if the Raiders come to town, even longer if the Raiders don’t. The team may even be sneaky competitive, thanks to being the only team recipient in a friendly expansion draft. And whatever casual locals don’t buy in as attending casual fans could be replaced to a degree by visiting fans. Seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if the NHL formatted future schedules to have games hosting Buffalo or the Great White North all on weekends.
Economically, the Vegas market remains largely a one-trick pony, begging to get startups and non-service sector industries to grow in Southern Nevada. Non-gaming corporate strength will be a major factor in the team’s long-term economic health, and while there should be no shortage of smaller local sponsors and a major car manufacturer sponsor just to cover both CES and SEMA, other patronage could be a tossup. The looming threat of competition in the form of a 65,000-seat domed stadium hosting the Raiders is also a real possibility. At least that should be decided later this year. Plus the team will be competing with its own landlords, AEG and MGM, for preferred days and dates on the calendar. The PBR World Finals is moving from the Thomas and Mack Center on the UNLV campus to T-Mobile Arena and is usually held in November, mere weeks into the NHL regular season.
Long term, there’s no telling how this team will hold up. Unless Sin City turns into Winnipeg South, it’ll need a lot of casual fans to fill the 17,500-seat venue. If that doesn’t happen the place will look like a lot of Sun Belt expansion era arenas, looking half-full and disinterested. For at least a few years things should be okay since the team will be a sort of super-novelty. The arena doesn’t need the team’s rent to pay the bills, and even if it does at a later date at least it’s privately financed. Whether or not Vegas becomes the next great hockey town is almost beside the point. The NHL was the first to stake a claim on the last great domestic frontier. That’s a big deal.
And finally, yesterday MLB commissioner Rob Manfred validated Vegas as a potential site for a future team.
“I think the whole, ‘you can’t go to Vegas because there’s casinos there,’ we passed that by a long time ago, right? There’s casinos all over the place. I see Las Vegas as a viable alternative. I would not disqualify it just because of the gambling issue.”
So there you have it. With other sports coming to Vegas, the gambling issue is no longer an issue. There isn’t much to consider this a shot across Oakland’s bow, considering the barriers to getting a domed ballpark in place, especially if a football stadium already exists. Still, Las Vegas has already had its day as a relocation threat candidate for the A’s and now the Raiders, so there’s plenty of history there. The time for Vegas to be yet again a baseball stalking horse is a long ways off.
Manfred said gambling wouldn’t prevent an MLB team from going there, he didn’t say it’s a viable MLB market. Vegas is a bit of a gamble for an NHL or NFL team; no way it can support MLB.
The point of the post was to say that the Vegas NHL team will prove out the market’s pro sports viability. No amount of conjecture or projection can substitute for this. Vegas is a different animal.
If the NHL team fails it will certainly provide more evidence that Vegas could not support an MLB team. However, even if the NHL team is wildly successful it will not prove Vegas could support an MLB team.
Vegas is a different animal; so is Major League Baseball.
There are plenty of examples where an NHL team fails where an MLB team prospers… Denver and Phoenix come to mind.
NHL is not one of the “big” sports anymore. I would say even NASCAR passed it by long ago, but at the current trajectory Brian France is running NASCAR into the ground and gets my vote for worst “commissioner” in pro sports.
@DTP Agree that MLB is more popular than NHL, but I don’t think the Colorado and Arizona examples are on point. Both of those markets have four major league teams and suffer from over saturation. In that situation it’s not surprising the less-popular NHL would lose out.
Vegas’ basic issue is it simply isn’t large enough to support an MLB team. It’s smaller than Kansas City, and there aren’t nearly as many people in the state surrounding it as there are in other small markets to make up for that.
Vegas’ “corporate” market is also unique. In other markets, local companies are looking for a venue to entertain their VIPs. In Vegas, the dominant local industry already has VIP entertainment zones on their own premises and are financially incented to keep their VIPs on site.
If it turns out Vegas can’t support a major league team when it’s the only game in town (even if it is hockey), why would one think it can outperform its market size and support a sport with twice as many games each of which needs to draw twice as many people to be economically viable?
You make valid points Bartleby but I still maintain that the NHL is a different enough beast that support or lack thereof has no bearning whatsoever on whether an MLB team can be supported in any market.
Whether Las Vegas can support one or not has absolutely nothing to do with the success of failure of what has become a regional sport.
The NHL had its heyday with Gretzky. Now that he’s long gone, they have faded in the general population’s mindset. Same with golf… no more Tiger so it’s fading. NASCAR is fading because the old-timers are gone. Now that Jeff Gordon is gone and Tony Stewart is almost done, and Brian France is treating the sport like a personal experiment by changing the rules monthly, old-school racing is kaput and it’s fading as well.
NHL comparisons are no longer valid.
The NBA… now that would be a much better test.
@DTP What is your basis for the conclusion hockey is becoming less popular?
My impression is the opposite: hockey used to be entirely a niche, regional sport but is gradually becoming more popular and has made inroads in non-traditional markets. Still fourth to be sure (and with the growth of soccer could fall to fifth), but growing nevertheless.
The biggest factors as to whether MLB could succeed in Vegas are population and demographics, and I think it’s pretty clear these just aren’t there. But I think the experience of the NHL will still provide useful data as to Vegas’ general viability as a sports market (especially with respect to the behavior of potential premium seat buyers).
One factor I think has been and will continue to be significant in NHL growth is the advent of flat screen HDTV. Hockey used to be unwatchable on television; now it’s a lot more viable there.
How about this for evidence….
Nowhere near the top. About even with the Indianapolis 500, which has to be relevant about two decades ago.
To say it’s anywhere near the same level as MLB or the NBA is just plain ludicrous.
Las Vegas couldn’t even support minor-league hockey. NHL will fall on its face there.
But I say that has nothing to do with whether they will be able to support the Raiders.
However, I do not believe they could support an MLB team. Probably could do as well as Oakland does… which means it can’t.
@DTP “Nowhere near the top. About even with the Indianapolis 500, which has to be relevant about two decades ago.”
You’re trying to change the point we’ve been debating. You asserted hockey’s popularity was declining and that it’s a regional sport. I responded that although hockey remains less popular than other sports, its popularity was in fact broadening and becoming less regional. You’re now asserting that it’s less popular than other sports. This may be true but it’s a different point.
“How about this for evidence….
That’s a pretty limited data point. Top rating for each sport’s signature event taken from a single year? I don’t think that’s a strong indicator. For example, the Belmont Stakes drew a higher rating than the highest rated game of the World Series. Would you seriously argue that horse racing is more popular than MLB at this point? The popularity of horse racing has been declining for years; they’re tearing out race tracks right and left.
Here is a broader set of metrics that suggests that the popularity of hockey is in fact growing at a steady though modest pace: https://automatedinsights.com/blog/is-hockey-becoming-more-popular-in-america/
“To say it’s anywhere near the same level as MLB or the NBA is just plain ludicrous.”
Yes it is, but nobody ever said that. Certainly I didn’t. I never said hockey was as popular as MLB or the NBA; in fact I pointed out it may soon fall behind soccer in the US. I just said it’s popularity is growing and I do believe its success or failure in Las Vegas will say something about the viability of Vegas as a major league sports market.
“Las Vegas couldn’t even support minor-league hockey.”
The success or failure of a minor league sport says little about whether a major league team would do well. The target market for minor league sports is largely people who are already fans of the sport and families looking for cheap entertainment. No one is saying that Vegas is currently a raging hotbed of hockey fans. The NHL’s strategy is to take advantage of being the first major league in the market to develop new fans. Basically, they’re banking on people who are drawn to the glamour, excitement and validation of having a major league team but who may become actual fans of the sport over time.
This is pretty much what happened in San Jose. Do you think the South Bay was a hotbed of hockey fans 25 years ago? People went to the games because it was a lot more convenient than going to San Francisco or Oakland and also because of the validation it gave San Jose as a city.
“NHL will fall on its face there.”
It very well might. And if it does, it will serve as a cautionary tale for other leagues that might consider locating there.
It did work with the Sharks, however, when a similar strategy was tried in Nashville (a hurry-up expansion franchise to try to beat the Oilers/Titans there) and Columbus (no other major league teams, not counting Ohio State football), they wound up with a couple lousy markets. Nashville’s turned out to be OK but they had some years of 13,000 a game which is not acceptable in today’s NHL. Columbus has been getting a subsidy from the city in addition to a free arena so that’s definitely not a success story.
Gary Bettman is the dumbest commissioner in all of pro sports. It used to be Bud Selig but at least good old Bud made money for his owners.
Bettman refuses to believe even to this day his expansion into non-traditional markets is working.
Nashville, Florida, Arizona (from Winnipeg), Tampa Bay, and Carolina lost money over the years and all of them lost money in 2014-2015 according to Forbes. Tampa went to the Stanley Cup finals no less and still didn’t turn a profit.
Colorado was allowed to move from Minny and lost money even though it is cold in Denver….Or allowing Winnipeg to move to Phoenix? SMH
Atlanta (CSA 6M people) went from a money sucker to a money maker in small market Winnipeg (CSA 700k people) overnight, even with a bad team the first year and an arena that seats only 15k. What does this tell you?
Canadians love hockey and will pay top dollar, it is their national pastime. Why do you think MLB does so well in America? For the same reasons.
Even today Bettman holds on to hope in Arizona where the fans just do not care about hockey and the team keeps bleeding money despite a sweetheart lease.
Now Bettman thinks Vegas will support a team long term? Dude is out of his mind.
In the end, Bettman refuses to expand into Canada because of his stubbornness being an American….It is the only explanation I can think of.
Why isn’t there another team in Toronto? Shooting down the Coyotes moving to Hamilton was straight dumb (even though he was right ethically), or why does Montreal have one team only?
How about a team in Quebec City? Even tiny Saskatoon would support a team better than most cities Bettman has expanded into over the years.
Or even Seattle for that matter? Even Seattle would do way better than Las Vegas long run.
If it wasn’t for the hard salary cap the NHL would have been doomed a long time ago because of Bettman.
Forgot to mention in Vegas there are way too many other things going on. Boxing, gambling, Brtiney Spears, the list goes on and on.
And the NHL is going to get people to show up with all that goes on there?
Guy is so dumb he just made $500M in franchise fees for the other 30 teams. What an idiot!
One would think that Seattle or Quebec would be better sites for a new franchise than Vegas. Perhaps a franchise there will give NHL officials an excuse to visit there several trips annualy to party , that’s the reason for granting a franchise over there possibly. Although NHL ice hockey at a 100% desert environment may also have some appeal -, especially at 115 deg. temp days, which Las Vegas can experience. sometimes.
The Avalanche moved to Colorado from Quebec, not Minnesota. The North Stars moved from Minnesota to Dallas.
Exchange rate and tax issues are significant impediments to putting more teams in Canada.
People just love to knock hockey. Let’s look at the Draft. The number one pick in the NHL Draft was from Scottsdale Arizona ( Matthews), you had FOUR players from the St Louis Area and there were 12 Players Born in the USA chosen in First Round and for the first time ever had more players picked then from Canada. Even Bob McKenzie ( a Canadian who is without question Pro-Canada but who knows the game as well as anyone) during the Draft seemed worried about the population difference between the US and Canada, and sees the gap closing. As for the The Coyotes they certainly played a role in Matthews becoming interested in hockey as well as with Arizona State University ( ASU) going Division One in hockey. Knock hockey in the southwest all you want, but just like in Carolina, California, Texas and especially St Louis it is growing and as more players make the NHL, it will cause more kids to pick it up, and more Schools to add hockey (for example:, UNLV is considering it).
The NHL team in Vegas will get lots of business as in, “Let’s go to Vegas while (fill in the name of your home town NHL team) is in town.” How much is Vegas ready to embrace its own NHL team with its own new fans? I have my doubts…It’s been brought up that gambling is all over the place now, which it is, but I am pretty sure Vegas is the only one with legalized betting on sports. Once, I was chased out of the sports book at a casino merely for using my cell phone, even though the call had nothing at all to do with sports or gambling… Also, how did Davis’s dream of his own stadium without giving up any of the team die today? Keep in mind I’m doing some skim reading and might have missed the details on that on this blog.
@pjk “Also, how did Davis’s dream of his own stadium without giving up any of the team die today?” I’m speculating, but interpreted that comment as ML saying the reduction in public funds for a Vegas stadium means Davis would have to give up a share of the team to bridge the gap. Which could be the case, though it seems a bit premature to draw that conclusion.
Looks like public funding for a Vegas stadium was cut from $750 million to $550 million. Still, it’s $550 million more than Davis will get from Oakland.
It’s a negotiation, so not sure that will be the final number. But yes, more than he’ll get from Oakland.
On the other hand, a stadium in Oakland doesn’t need to be a dome so doesn’t need to be quite as expensive as the Vegas stadium. And the Raiders have managed to sell out to season ticket holders in Oakland, while the long term prospects of the team in Las Vegas are uncertain. So certainly, the more the public subsidy is reduced in Las Vegas the less compelling that offer will be.
re: Even today Bettman holds on to hope in Arizona where the fans just do not care about hockey and the team keeps bleeding money despite a sweetheart lease. …I keep hearing the problem is the placement of the arena in Glendale, away from where the fans are and a difficult commute mid-week. Akin to putting the Sharks in downtown Morgan Hill.
I think the problem is that there isn’t a market for hockey in Phoenix, as they didn’t draw when they played downtown either. The placement of the arena (which does suck) is just a little more dirt on the grave.
Did you ever see a hockey game at America West Arena in downtown Phoenix or whatever it’s called now? Lots of obstructed-view seating. Watch the player head down your end of the ice on a breakaway, then tilt your head up to the TV monitor above you to see if he actually scores or not, since you can’t see the last 15 feet or so of ice surface. It was a basketball venue with a hockey rink improperly shoehorned in.
@pjk Can you explain why the NFL or MLB would require some public financing for new stadiums – it is puzzling why the leagues prefer that From what I understand, the Adelson group was planning to build a new NFL domed stadium with zero public financing – the NFL must be pushing for some public funding (for whatever reason) in order to build a football stadium in Vegas.
I think the leagues see it as – public funds build libraries (authors don’t have to build them), pubiic funds, not airlines, build airports; public funds build roads, not GM and Ford; the symphony hall is built with taxpayer funds, not with ticket sales from the symphony. That sort of thing. But what happened was the public got wind of these multi-million-dollar salaries these athletes are getting. Backlash to that has manifested itself in a resistance to spend billions in taxpayer money on new stadiums. And rightfully so. And the owners see their teams devaluing if they are expected to pay for their own facilities rather than taxpayers picking up the tab. Boo hoo for them.
Pretty sure no library has demanded a new building after twenty years like the Falcons/Braves/Rangers/Coyotes/etc. are doing.
“Can you explain why the NFL or MLB would require some public financing for new stadiums”
Because they can.
“it is puzzling why the leagues prefer that”
Yes, it is very puzzling why the leagues prefer free money.
“From what I understand, the Adelson group was planning to build a new NFL domed stadium with zero public financing”
I pointed out you were wrong about this on several occasions.
“the NFL must be pushing for some public funding (for whatever reason) in order to build a football stadium in Vegas.”
To my knowledge the NFL has required some level of public funding for every new stadium built in the last 20 years. Even with Levi’s Stadium, the negotiations bogged down for a bit over this. The NFL was insisting on a contribution from Santa Clara that was really small potatoes in the big scheme of things, but the NFL didn’t want to establish a precedent of NOT getting public funding.
The NFL got $100 million from Santa Clara. But now there is an investigation of whether there is actually more public subsidizing going on than was authorized.
@bartleby: Here is the link I am referring to:
@ Duffer I saw that same article. Not only does it not say the Adelson group was planning to build a new NFL domed stadium with zero public financing, it specifically says they would be seeking public financing. For example:
“[Las Vegas Sands’ senior VP Andy] Abboud said the project would be a “public-private partnership” in which Las Vegas Sands or the Adelson family would contribute an unspecified large portion of the financing.”
“Abboud said Las Vegas Sands may seek legislative approval for diversion of hotel room tax revenues that now support the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to the project.”
“[Convention authority CEO Rossi] Ralenkotter was less enthusiastic about diverting room tax money for a stadium.”
“Majestic Realty Executive Vice President Craig Cavileer said a public-private partnership is necessary for a stadium, and that financing would dictate its design.”
The key word is that investment group will provide a large portion of the financing. Unlike Oakland, San Diego, San Antonio, etc. they can afford to 100% fund the stadium if they choose to. They appear to want public participation in the project, however don’t need it.
Here is a new link. Unfortunately, unless Oakland officials pull something similar to what Mayor Johnson did with the Sac Kings – it appear to be welcome to your Las Vegas Raiders:
@duffer “The key word is that investment group will provide a large portion of the financing.”
No idea what your point is. You said the project would be 100% privately funded, which is just flat out wrong. A “large portion” of the funding is not the same as 100%. In fact, we’ve come to understand that the Adelson group considers around 10% to be a “large portion.” Which should surprise anyone paying attention to these things not at all.
“Unlike Oakland, San Diego, San Antonio, etc. they can afford to 100% fund the stadium if they choose to.”
The Raiders and Chargers could fully fund their projects if they chose to. They might have to make certain compromises on the kind of project that gets built, and in Davis’ case he might have to sell off a stake in the team. But they could do it if they wanted to.
“They appear to want public participation in the project, however don’t need it.”
Actually, I’d take an educated guess the project doesn’t come close to breaking even for the Adelson group without a massive amount of public funding. Their situation is different than say the 49ers, who recouped a lot of their stadium investment in the form of increased franchise value. If the Raiders weren’t involved it would have been UNLV, a publicly funded university. I’m pretty sure Adelson would still have his hand out for a buttload of tax money.
Regardless, it’s irrelevant whether they “need” public money or not. Almost no professional sports teams “need” public money to get a stadium built. Almost all insist on it anyway, because they can. If the incumbent city won’t pay up, usually there’s another city that will.
My point is that the Vegas Raiders appears to be likely, because that investment group is loaded with cash, unlike the municipalities of Oakland, San Diego, San Antonio, etc.- which evidently don’t have much, and likely would find it difficult to get voter approval to ok public financing for an new NFL stadium.
Kroenke’s Rams stadium plan, as it turned out, was easily approved by the NFL owners group over the Davis/Spanos plan, probably because Kroenke has much more cash available than Davis/ Spanos, It’s evident with the NFL, money talks – b.s. walks, when franchise relocation is involved.
“My point is that the Vegas Raiders appears to be likely, because that investment group is loaded with cash, unlike the municipalities of Oakland, San Diego, San Antonio, etc.- which evidently don’t have much, and likely would find it difficult to get voter approval to ok public financing for an new NFL stadium.”
You are conflating two entirely separate things – how much money the private investors have and how much public money might be available. If Las Vegas happens, it will be because the city and state were willing to spend somewhere between $500 and $750 million in tax money on it. It will have nearly nothing to do with the relatively paltry $200 million the Adelson group is putting in (money that wouldn’t even be needed for Oakland’s $500 million less expensive project).
It is true Oakland is willing to contribute nothing toward construction (though it would contribute land and infrastructure). If the team moves, that will be the primary reason. However, your statements about San Diego and San Antonio are not supported. San Diego is proposing a public contribution that is comparable to the one offered by Vegas (though neither one has yet been approved). We have no idea what San Antonio might be willing to do, as the opportunities in Los Angeles and Las Vegas seem to have pushed San Antonio to the back burner.
“Kroenke’s Rams stadium plan, as it turned out, was easily approved by the NFL owners group over the Davis/Spanos plan, probably because Kroenke has much more cash available than Davis/ Spanos, It’s evident with the NFL, money talks – b.s. walks, when franchise relocation is involved.”
Kroenke’s stadium was approved because it was simply a better project, full stop. Kroenke is building NFL Disneyland; the Davis/Spanos project was just a stadium in a sea of parking. Either project would easily have been funded.
Wrong answer, the private investors with plenty of cash appear to win out concerning NFL franchise relocation, there appears to a definite correlation between investors (and owners) who are wealthy and success at franchise relocation vs broke municipalities – you choose to pretend there isn’t one.
“Wrong answer, the private investors with plenty of cash appear to win out concerning NFL franchise relocation, there appears to a definite correlation between investors (and owners) who are wealthy and success at franchise relocation vs broke municipalities – you choose to pretend there isn’t one.
An ipse dixit assertion without factual support. The story of recent NFL relocations has almost always been about a municipality being willing to throw a ton of public money on the table to lure a franchise (e.g. Rams to St. Louis, Browns to Baltimore; Houston and Cleveland beating out LA for expansion franchises).
And even when there wasn’t yet a sweetheart deal with public money on the table, I can’t think of any examples where a relocation happened because of “private investors with plenty of cash.” The Raiders moved back to Oakland and Oilers left for Tennessee because they got frustrated with inaction of city leaders in Los Angeles and Houston. There were no “private investors” funding those moves.
Are you seriously arguing that the $200 million Adelson is willing to put in somehow outweighs the $750 million they’re seeking from Las Vegas and Nevada? That’s idiotic.
The bottom line is that Davis is drawn to Vegas because it looks like he’ll get somewhere between $550 and $750 million in public funds toward a stadium there versus $0 from Oakland, full stop.
Also that investment group believes that Las Vegas needs a large domed stadium for plenty of other uses besides football -, they evidently plan getting much more utility out of it than 10 NFL games annually. (They are more interesting in using it for other events besides football and not so much luring an NFL franchise and only playing NFL games at the site)
We’ve heard that story before. It is easier said than done.
We can talk ad nauseum about the merits of this. Bottom line is that the NHL is going to Vegas, so let’s see how this all plays out. I also think this will prevent a Raiders move, as now everyone will want to see how the NHL does first, even if it’s for a couple of years. Unfortunately, this also keeps the A’s situation in limbo as well.
“I also think this will prevent a Raiders move, as now everyone will want to see how the NHL does first, even if it’s for a couple of years.”
I was thinking the same thing. I have heard many people say the opposite, which is a bit odd to me. I don’t get how Vegas suddenly having a team (NHL), makes it more likely the Raiders will end up there. The Vegas market was previously thought by many to only have the ability to support one major sports team. (If that)
I know the NHL has been considering Vegas for some time, I’m wondering if they pushed this ahead so they could capture the market before the NFL could get there? Or perhaps make some NFL owners think twice before voting to allow Mark to move there considering how small the market is.
While I think the argument between duffer and barteby is very interesting and both make really good points, I think it’s ultimately irrelevant. The main take away for me is that there are active negotiations between the stakeholders (Raiders, Sands investors, Las Vegas, Nevada,) and all sides are extremely motivated to make a deal, and the current gap is not insurmountable (in fact, they’re not far off). And the combination of deep pocketed investors and substantial public subsidy (between 500 and 750 mil), and the quagmire that is the situation in Oakland, will all make it irresistible to the NFL owners to approve. It looks very promising, indeed likely, that the LV Raiders will happen.
And an NHL franchise is probably irrelevant, at least concerning the Raiders moving to LV. NFL gets most of it’s revenue from TV, and it’s 8 home games a season. That will fit in nicely with the LV casino economy. The NHL franchise fail completely. But again, that’s irrelevant.
I’m glad this will happen – nothing against hard core Raiders fans in Oakland. It will finally free up the A’s to do what they can do at the Coli site. The Raiders had a more than viable option in partnering with the 49ers at Levi, but stupidly refused to do so. And they can’t finance in Oakland by themselves, and won’t get public subsidy from Oakland.
A bit off topic: Oakland’s coal ban could lead to a hefty lawsuit. Wonder if any judgment $$ would come from liability insurance or the general fund – money that would otherwise be used for services and facilities (like stadiums).