Friday, July 2, 1999 | 9:51 a.m.
Dean Juipe's column appears Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. His boxing notebookappears Thursday. Reach him at [email protected] or 259-4084.
First and foremost, consider the fact that in the Las Vegas valley there are 2,500 people playing in organized roller hockey leagues.
So, as for the question "Is there interest in the sport?" the answer is obviously "yes."
Yet Thursday night at the Santa Fe Hotel & Casino ice arena, there were maybe 400 spectators in the stands to see what may be the finest professional team in the world -- the Las Vegas Coyotes -- playing a game in the finest roller hockey league in the world, Roller Hockey International.
The lack of attendance proves without much doubt that something is amiss. In what was the fourth of nine home games for the team, the crowd count was down -- again -- from where the Coyotes started the season and it would be easy to say the franchise, if not the entire league, is in trouble.
Only three of the eight RHI teams are averaging four figures in attendance, and Las Vegas is not among them. The league-wide average is a paltry 1,887.
The RHI also has no TV contract and is not having its standings, let alone its results and game capsules, run on a major news wire. It does, however, have a nice web site.
And it also has some reason for optimism if it could only get its promotional house in order.
This remodeled version of the RHI may not be new and improved over the old one, but Las Vegas' role in it at least looks more intriguing. The Coyotes, who defeated the Minnesota Blue Ox 6-4 in Thursday night's game to improve their record to a league-best 9-0-1, are talented enough that a number of the city's youth coaches show up simply to study the team's quick line changes and offensive schematics.
In Las Vegas' previous RHI endeavor, the Flash proved to be a one-season calamity in 1994. The team played in too big of an arena (the Thomas & Mack Center) and, however subtly, seemed to err by trying to market the product as the chic or the "in" thing to do.
It didn't work and the team folded without many tears being shed, just as the RHI shut down for a year in 1998 to little notice.
What the Coyotes need to do is tap into the youth roller-hockey craze that's taking place in both Las Vegas and Henderson, yet, to date, they haven't made any inroads in that area. That's a mistake and it's potentially a critical one. No matter what the exact numbers may be, it's taking a few dollars to support this franchise. One insider put the figure $1 million on it, considering the travel in a 26-game schedule, plus the cost of an expensive playing surface and whatever the Santa Fe is being paid.
The players aren't getting rich, yet there's a nice twist to it in that the winning team gets paid more than the loser. Every sport ought to be like that.
The sport itself is at least borderline entertaining, which is more than can be said for some of what's out there, and the Coyotes' playing surface is quicker -- and therefore more exciting -- than what the Flash used at the T&M.
All in all, at $8 for a ticket it's not a bad deal. The game moves along, the players aren't much for fighting and Las Vegas has the best team in the league. It's worth a look, although the Santa Fe's northwest site certainly works against attracting people from the other side of the valley. Truth is, the Coyotes need to do something to lure potential fans in, or they'll be buried in short order.