Friday, Oct. 16, 2015 | 2 a.m.
Bill Foley is the man who would be most singularly responsible if and when Las Vegas receives an NHL team, but if he had known everything involved to try to make that a reality, even the prospective franchise owner isn’t sure he would have signed up for the job.
“Every day we’re trying to do something to influence the league to make sure they know how serious Las Vegas is about having hockey,” Foley said Thursday night as the keynote speaker at the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance’s annual dinner at Aria. “My simple view is that hockey will change the mindset of Las Vegas. It’s a great city. It has terrific restaurants and terrific entertainment, but why don’t we give it something else to really be proud of, like a professional sports franchise.”
Foley has a long history of successful businesses, including Fortune 500 mortgage and finance company Black Knight Financial Services, and more than a year ago he started bringing them to Las Vegas. As a businessman alone he made sense in front of a ballroom full of people who work with the LVGEA on advancing Southern Nevada’s interests to, as the dinner was titled, “Create a New Nevada.”
Foley called Las Vegas a “no-brainer” for businesses looking to develop, citing health facilities like the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and especially what he believes is an increased focus on education.
“That’s the base to really get companies to move, to start growing your experienced and trained workforce,” he said. “You’ve got to keep it up. I’m no politician but what’s going on here is really important to the future of Southern Nevada.”
Really, though, people just wanted to hear about hockey. It’s been a long process, one fraught with more hurdles and background checks than he ever anticipated.
“(The NHL) has called people I haven’t talked to in 30 years,” Foley joked.
A couple of weeks ago Foley met in New York City with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and other league leaders for phase three in this long process. Las Vegas and Quebec City are vying for the right to pay a $500 million expansion fee to get a new franchise, and Foley explained to the crowd that there’s no chance they could have gotten even this far if not for a couple of key factors.
The first is the Las Vegas Arena, a 20,000-seat facility created by a partnership between AEG and MGM Resorts that’s slated to open next year and will be ready to host hockey, basketball, concerts and other similar events.
“Without that venue, you would never be able to do it,” he said.
The other thing is the support Las Vegas showed when Bettman tasked Foley with proving the city’s interest through a season-ticket drive.
“I don’t believe he believes how Las Vegas responded in terms of season ticket deposits,” Foley said. “We have 13,500 season-ticket deposits, and these are not casinos. This is the people of Las Vegas.
“We have deposits for a team that doesn’t exist for an arena that is not yet built. That’s when it all started coming together.”
Those numbers are one reason it’s been frustrating that this deal isn’t already done. Foley wants the expansion team to being play in the 2017-18 season, and between now and then the franchise would need to build a practice facility, create a minor-league team, develop a scouting system plus hire a general manager, front-office personnel and coaching staff, among other things.
“My strong hope is that we get a team by January or February because we need that time to really get organized,” he said.
Foley said he and his wife, Carol, are in Las Vegas whether hockey happens or not, but he didn’t move here just to play golf. Foley is setting up his interests in Las Vegas, including his Folded Flag Foundation that gives academic scholarships to surviving family members of military and government employees who are killed in combat, and he’s already set up a deal that would give $1 from every hockey ticket sold to Opportunity Village, which he said would reach $750,000 with a sold-out season.
Foley, who said his team would reach the playoffs within three years and win the Stanley Cup within eight, believes all of that money will be raised because he’s convinced the desert will adapt well to hockey. At the meeting in New York, Foley was asked why Las Vegas would be good for the NHL and he explained that, first of all, the local populace will be “avid hockey fans. They are going to support this team. We’ll create youth hockey, we’ll build rinks; it will be the sport in Las Vegas.”
Foley then turned his eye worldwide, something very few cities could even attempt to claim.
“Forty-one million other people come to Las Vegas and they’re going to support this team, and they’re going to talk about this team,” he said. “It’s going to be talked about in China, Russia, everywhere across the world. That was a message that really resonated.”
It resonated enough to keep Las Vegas in an expansion process that could reach a positive conclusion at an early December meeting in California, but not enough to convince Foley that the finish line won’t just move deeper into the calendar. He’s had success in several different fields, yet professional sports has proven to be perhaps the most challenging.
Foley is too far now to turn around. He just hopes the NHL eventually feels the same urgency to make a Las Vegas franchise a reality.
“We need to get this team soon,” he said.