Every ardent sports fanatic has an opinion on the Stanley Cup win of the Penguins. Clearly the ones who attended the match at SAP Centre in San Jose did, for they jeered when National Hockey League (NHL) Commissioner, Gary Bettman, handed it to Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Captain. Merely 10 days later, the NHL announced William “Bill” Foley as the owner of the league’s new expansion team – the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Barely a year later, the National Football League (NFL) approved Mark Davis’ request to move the Oakland Raiders to Vegas. In less than a year, the Sin City went from having no premium sports teams to acquiring two franchises.
Mark Davis’ decision to move to move to Vegas is rather interesting. He was so keen to make the move that he began bullying Oakland mayor, Libby Schaaf, to publicly fund the construction of a new stadium. It was known to Davis that Schaaf would refuse his request. She had other pressing issues in the city to attend to. On the contrary, Vegas offered Davis $750 million of the hard-earned tax payer money as funding for a new NFL stadium. Davis jumped for joy. The Oakland Raiders fans felt betrayed.
Bill Foley’s main competitor was Quebec City. The NHL wanted an expansion team; they only needed to choose a location. Unfortunately for Quebec City, the Canadian Dollar was too unstable for the NHL’s comfort. All Foley needed to do to win this war was prove that there is a hockey market in Vegas. He did that by collecting deposits and selling a little over 15,000 season tickets.
The figure is impressive until you look at season-ticket sales of the Phoenix Coyotes, now Arizona Coyotes, when they first joined the NHL in 1996. They sold 12,500 season tickets and left the remaining 3,000 seats for individual purchases. But by 2008, the Coyotes franchise revealed that they were losing money at a high rate. They filed for bankruptcy in 2009.
Like Davis, Coyotes owner, Jerry Moyes, acquired $180 million in public funding for the construction of their stadium. The NHL’s decision to move to Arizona was a disaster. Considering the fact that the new owners of NHL are contemplating a relocation, they have not only wasted the city’s money but will also be leaving it in an atomic mess.
The Arizona story is a great indicator of what may happen in Vegas. And like Arizona, Vegas too, is currently not ready for premium sports. Although their population is growing, their economy is still highly dependent on the entertainment industry: casinos, theaters, live shows, and other forms of performance. Many workers have unpredictable shift hours and they are working to serve and cater to tourists and visitors. The only way pro-sports could become successful in Vegas, would be to fill up stadiums with tourists. That could be risky, because people currently don’t visit Vegas to watch sports. Tourists in Vegas want to gamble, watch shows or go to theatres.
Of course, it doesn’t help that Vegas also has a history of failed sports franchises. In 1994, the Canadian Football League (CFL) expanded to the U.S. market with the Las Vegas Posse. The team failed to gain a following and folded the very next season. In 1999, the X-Treme Football League (XFL) tried to put a team up there. They were greeted with a cold response. Most recently, in 2012, the United Football League (UFL) claimed they would put a successful team in Las Vegas’ turf. They too failed.
The future of the NHL and NFL Vegas franchises is doubtful, to say the least. However, what may happen in the future, is something only time will tell.
Michael Policicchio | The Edge Blog