Ice and Las Vegas aren’t synonymous with one another. In fact, everyone is primarily using ice for cooling the patrons’ drinks in casinos and figure skating shows.
With all due respect, those activities are popular, but they have to start sharing the ice soon.
Starting on Sept. 26th, professional hockey begins in the Sin City when the Vegas Golden Knights play their first home game at T-Mobile Arena.
The hockey world has focused its attention on Las Vegas as it witnesses the first expansion team since 2000. Fans have already brought into the hype: full season tickets have already sold out. The Golden Knights’ official website says limited amounts of half, quarter and partial season packages are still available.
As the team begins to take shape this week with the expansion draft, expectations take shape on how the franchise can sustain its fanbase and grow out west. But with a growing economy and population as well as a myriad of draft options to field at least a competitive team, the Golden Knights are here to stay, even with the ice shows and casinos.
The Las Vegas Market
When the NHL officially awarded the bid to Las Vegas last offseason, critics initially shot it down for being a western market and a town without a hockey atmosphere. Vegas also has the connotation of being a tourist spot for its nightlife and was hit hard during the economic recession in the late 2000s. Becoming a sports town, however, can shake off those reputations, though the area is improving from a population and real estate standpoint.
The city has seen rapid growth in tourism, population and real estate. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the tourism sector in Clark County has recovered 98.7 percent of its losses from the recent recession. These numbers come from travelers from McCarran International Airport, hotel and motel occupancy rates and the gaming industry.
The Golden Knights can take advantage of these areas. Fans of visiting teams can enjoy other activities in the city while taking in a game. This is how the team can attract revenue while building its brand as a hockey town.
Of all the economic sectors, population has seen the biggest climb. Multi-Housing News reported that almost 148,000 people moved to Las Vegas since 2011. Employment jumped 3.4 percent in 2016. While those rates will likely slow down moving forward, the increase still is a good sign for the city’s stability.
An influx of residents in the area have skyrocketed housing demands as well. Apartments are building up along the 215 highway, and surrounding areas like Henderson continue to see spikes in development. Single and multi-family housing permits increased by 27.7 percent in 2016 and will slow, but the area is expanding. With more long-term residents living in Las Vegas, the Golden Knights have the potential to put people in seats each night.
The On-Ice Product
The expansion draft is just four days away, and the Golden Knights will scoop a player from each team to add to their roster. While it will change the NHL landscape, Vegas likely won’t become an immediate contender. The previous three expansion teams (Minnesota, Columbus and Atlanta/Winnipeg) haven’t reached the Stanley Cup yet after more than 17 seasons.
The Blue Jackets recently started to play well but haven’t escaped the first round, while the Wild can’t reach the next level. Vegas doesn’t want to repeat the Thrashers incident either.
At the same time, they shouldn’t be a team that plummets to the cellar of the Western Conference. Marc-Andre Fleury is a great available option, as he’s starting-caliber goalie with Stanley Cup experience. They can also take advantage of roster constraints from teams like Nashville and Ottawa, who are deep in forwards and defensemen. Vegas can get a nice piece from each.
Even so, their lines won’t have as much firepower as other teams. However, General Manager George McPhee has a nice selection in front of him. They’ll compete in games this season.
Not only can the Golden Knights build through veterans, but the actual NHL Draft will yield results too. They have the sixth pick and seven selections total, with the opportunity to accrue more. If a team doesn’t want Vegas to pick one of its players, they can offer pick compensation as a result. Building around young players along with first signee Reid Duke generates buzz with fans. McPhee has all the leverage in those negotiations too, should they come up.
The Future of the Golden Knights
Casinos and ice shows are still king in Sin City. However, hockey is about to become another attraction in Las Vegas. The expansion draft has the entire NHL in frenzy on who will become a part of the first roster. Concerns about sustaining a franchise in a new market are understandable, but the area is growing.
The Golden Knights can also learn from a fellow Western Conference franchise on how to build a hockey market. The fanbase is excited about the new team and have showed it in ticket sales already. The on-ice product is still a question mark at this point in time, but the buzz of the new team is palpable. Enjoy the moment now.
Feature image courtesy of T-Mobile Arena’s official website.
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