Thursday, June 23, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Bill Foley joked he was holding off on hosting a celebration for the now-official NHL expansion franchise he’s bringing to Las Vegas because it was too hot outside. The real reason for the delay is no laughing matter and strictly business: There’s work to be done.
The owner of the NHL’s 31st franchise has worked ahead in the three years since he began the process of bringing Las Vegas its first major professional sports team. But he had to halt many aspects until the league’s Board of Governors unanimously approved the new team Wednesday in a meeting at Encore Las Vegas.
With the promise of a start in the 2017-18 season, Foley now plans to get after everything immediately.
“You’ll see a lot of action here over the next 30, 45 days,” Foley promised.
Necessities he’ll most aggressively pursue over the next couple of months include launching a ticketing system, hiring a staff including the team’s front office, and perhaps most important, picking a team name and logo. Foley set a naming-decision deadline for before the start of the 2016 NHL season in early October, which is right around when he’s eyeing the public party.
But, ideally, he’d like to complete the task before that.
“We have a number of names that we’re going to send to the league and we’ll get the league’s view on the names,” Foley said. “Then we’re going to follow through and come up with something pretty quickly.”
The Black Knights was the presumed favorite team name for more than a year as a homage to Foley’s alma mater of West Point. For the first time, Foley hedged on the Black Knights shortly after Commissioner Gary Bettman announced he was awarded the team.
“I have to go through a process,” he said. “I like the name, maybe it’s political correctness that's not perfect. That’s all I will say.”
Looking back, Foley thought he shared too much before the NHL formally introduced the expansion process last June. His outspoken support for the Black Knights could be perceived as one example.
His one-time suggestion of staging a team-naming contest was certainly another. Foley completely backtracked from that idea Wednesday, laughing he would need to get, “a lot of the votes,” and noting there wasn’t time for a protracted process.
“We need to get this name, get this logo done and start selling some jerseys,” he said.
Foley must pay a $500 million expansion fee for the team in addition to the millions he’s already sunk into operating costs. Therefore, he’s eager to start creating revenue streams.
He said commissioned research revealed that the team could make $4 million off merchandising in the first year alone, and he believed that figure was beatable.
“If I can’t sell a lot of jerseys in Las Vegas to 42 million people that come here, then I’m not a very successful salesman or businessman,” Foley said.
“My goal is to make it an international brand, so people come from China or they come from Europe, and they walk away and they’re wearing our jerseys, wearing our hats, wearing our T-shirts, have gym bags and so on.”
Foley offered no insight into his short list of names, though he noted it would reflect the team’s culture. And Foley is ambitious in that regard, as the best one-word way to describe what he hopes to instill is “win.”
He thinks the team will benefit from coming into the league alone and having a deep pool of players to take in next summer’s expansion draft, which will help Las Vegas compete for a playoff spot immediately. Foley plans to run a player-friendly organization that helps with everything from housing to family entertainment.
The only expectation in return is delivering to a high degree on the ice. That desire will also largely inform whom Foley hires for the all-important general manager post.
“We need to work through the league and we need advice on how to start contacting people, how to deal with them in an appropriate fashion,” Foley said. “We’ll be very careful about that, but obviously, we need to start with some people pretty quickly.”
“Quickly” was the most-used word of the day for Foley, showing how much he wanted to get moving with the team’s next phase. Foley’s resolve was something Bettman noticed all along and identified as a positive attribute.
“Ownership is always the first and perhaps the most important ingredient of any club,” Bettman said. “He’s a very impressive guy. He’s accomplished a lot. Like a lot of people I know who attended West Point, they have a certain determination to get things done.”
The first local taste of that came when Foley secured 14,000 season ticket deposits when Bettman only asked for 10,000. Foley now expects some of those commitments to disappear since they were tied to the team starting in the 2016-17 season, but not many.
Everyone keeping their tickets will pick their exact seats off a virtual ticketing website. Foley’s goal was to finish the interactive service within the next 60 days.
It might be the next major development for Las Vegas’ NHL team this summer, but it won’t be the last. For Foley, Wednesday’s announcement was as much of a work signal as it was a historic moment.
“We know where we are,” he said, “and we know what we should be doing.”