Published Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015 | 1:40 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015 | 5:18 p.m.
It's showtime for Las Vegas to determine whether it can host a major professional sports team.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was at the MGM Grand today as ownership group Hockey Vision Las Vegas launched a season-ticket drive with a goal of 10,000 deposits. Billionaire Bill Foley, who leads the group, is optimistic the effort will show the league that the city can sustain an expansion franchise.
"I'm confident that we will demonstrate that Las Vegas is a viable NHL city," Foley said.
In classic Las Vegas fashion, the news conference included showgirls, a replica of the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign" and Gavin Maloof dropping a puck for a ceremonial face-off between two men wearing hockey gear.
The ownership group's website, vegaswantshockey.com, began accepting deposits at 1:30 p.m. The league hasn't given Foley a deadline to secure the deposits.
Bettman said a team for Las Vegas isn't guaranteed, regardless of the result of the ticket drive. A decision would be up to the NHL Board of Governors. Still, Bettman said, he supports Foley's effort.
"As I've gotten to know Bill, I have learned two things about him: one, he's very successful, and two, he's very persuasive," Bettman said.
Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak said the attempt to bring the NHL to Las Vegas is about more than just hockey. It’s about jobs and economic diversification.
“We're talking about pride; we're talking about community," said Sisolak, who drew cheers at the news conference when he handed Foley a check to cover the deposit for two season tickets.
Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, disputed the notion that Las Vegas doesn’t have major sporting events. The city hosts NASCAR races, rodeo events, bull riding, boxing, PGA Tour golf and college basketball conference tournaments.
"It's really part of the DNA of Las Vegas," Ralenkotter said.
A Las Vegas team could begin play in 2016-17 in a 17,500-seat, $375 million Strip arena being built by MGM Resorts International and Anschutz Entertainment Group. Construction on the arena behind New York-New York is scheduled to be completed by April 2016.
The arena developers didn’t know whether the building would attract an NHL or an NBA team, but they had a “Build it and they might come” philosophy, said Mark Prows, senior vice president of arenas for MGM Resorts International.
Foley's partners include the Maloof family, which has a minority stake in the Palms and formerly owned the NBA's Sacramento Kings. The Maloofs helped recruit the Founding 75, a group of locals each committed to selling at least 60 season tickets. Each of the Founding 75 has a hockey jersey with the member's name on the back.
The group since has grown to about 83 members.
"I thank the Las Vegas community for supporting this effort in this way," Foley said.