Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015 | 2 a.m.
Las Vegas has never been this close to becoming a professional sports city. Today could be a significant step in making that a reality.
For Bill Foley, the Florida mortgage company billionaire on the verge of bringing a National Hockey League franchise to Las Vegas and the new MGM/AEG arena behind the Strip, getting the final blessing from the league for an expansion team is a simple equation:
If he can secure deposit money for 10,000 season tickets during a drive beginning at 1:30 p.m. today, then he’s confident the league will give him the green light for a franchise starting in 2016-17 season.
“You buy those tickets and I will get a team,” Foley said. “If those tickets get sold, we will get a team in Las Vegas.”
He said the 10,000 threshold was given to Hockey Vision Las Vegas, the group Foley heads, by the league. Foley is teaming with Las Vegans Gavin and Joe Maloof, former owners of the Palms and Sacramento Kings, in the quest to land a hockey franchise.
“But we want to do better,” he said. “The more deposits we get, the more assured we are to getting a team.”
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and other brass from the league will be here for the ticket drive kickoff at the MGM Grand to test the city’s interest in hockey. Having them in town for the launch speaks volumes.
“That’s validation,” Foley said. “They won’t say anything other than we support Bill and what he is doing, and he has been given the green light (by the league to conduct the drive).”
The league hasn’t given Foley a deadline to secure deposit numbers, but there’s an understanding it needs to be within a reasonable amount of time.
“If (Foley) is able to get to a number that makes a lot of sense and shows a great deal of enthusiasm in two or three weeks, he and we will have a better sense of the market,” Bettman told the Toronto Sun.
Tickets range from $20-$40 ($150 deposit per ticket) a game for the upper ends of the arena and $150-$220 ($900) deposit) for center ice. They can be secured in commitments of one, three, five or 10 years. Deposit money is refundable if no franchise is awarded.
There’s already been significant movement in sales.
Foley says half of the 44 luxury suites have been sold from $150,000 to $250,000 per suite. All eight of the bunker suites, or event-level suites, have been sold for $1.1 million. All of the purchases are multiyear commitments.
“I believe Las Vegas is ready for this,” Foley said. “This will give Las Vegas a new identity, having a pro sports team.”
Foley said they’ve already invested $2 million into the project, in the form of market studies, advertising, hiring a public relations firm and more. They ran a local ad during the Super Bowl two weeks ago, which immediately paid off.
At vegaswantshockey.com, the number of potential season tickets buyers who gave contact information increased by 2,000 to 6,200 after the game. As of Monday, it’s at 10,000. Those are simply fans interested in receiving information.
“We don’t know what the conversion rate will be,” Foley said. “They may just be curious.”
Using their local ties, the Maloofs helped recruit the Founding 50 — 50 locals, mostly business owners, committed to selling at least 60 season tickets. The campaign has been such a success the group has grown to 83 members, including Toronto poker star Daniel Negreanu. If they each come through on the commitment, that’s more than 3,000 season tickets.
Attempts by other groups during the past decade to land a professional team — basketball, baseball and soccer — have been hindered by the lack of a facility. The $350 million, 20,000-seat MGM/AEG venue behind New York-New York makes hockey a reality. It’s scheduled to be completed by April 2016 and would seat 17,500 for hockey.
“That changed the whole thing. When the league saw the way the arena is laid out, it is going to be fantastic,” Foley said.
There are still a few hurdles to be overcome.
Foley said league officials asked him to not comment on sports gambling, which is legal in Nevada and has previously been a drawback for professional sports commissioners. It’s unknown how the league views gaming or if it would require sports books to not post betting lines of games involving the Las Vegas team.
The biggest drawback might be trying to start a hockey team in a nontraditional hockey market. Franchises in other nontraditional cities — Phoenix and Atlanta, for instance — have lost money and relocated. It’s happened twice in Atlanta.
“Las Vegas is going to be a hot city for hockey,” Foley said. “It’s not a traditional hockey market. We have to get more rinks built so we can develop youth hockey programs in Las Vegas and really make hockey a fabric of the community. People love sports here. I just have to develop a winner.”
First, he has to develop season ticket holders. It starts today.
Call 702-645-9990 to make a deposit.