Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau
Thursday, June 23, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Before the puck could drop, ground had to break, and as Las Vegas celebrates its first-ever major-league franchise it’s important to note the role a privately financed arena made in making it all a reality.
“T-Mobile Arena was built to showcase hockey at its very best,” said Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, chairman of the NHL Board of Governors.
After a long meeting Wednesday at Encore Las Vegas, the board voted unanimously (30-0) to approve an expansion franchise in Vegas for the 2017-18 season while deferring a potential move to Quebec City. Las Vegas majority owner Bill Foley and his ownership group will have to pay a $500 million expansion fee, as expected, and then the nitty-gritty of building a brand-new team can truly begin.
But the importance of a brand-new, state-of-the-art arena for them to call home shouldn’t be overlooked. Both Jacobs and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman cited the facility, which can hold 17,500 for hockey, as a strong part of Vegas’ bid.
T-Mobile, a $375 million project that broke ground in 2014 and opened in April, is owned equally by MGM and AEG.
“T-Mobile Arena was designed specifically with professional hockey in mind and we look forward to soon welcoming NHL fans from around the world, who will quickly realize why T-Mobile Arena will be the premier venue in the league,” said T-Mobile Arena General Manager Dan Quinn in a statement.
Housing a pro team there was by no means a guarantee. Just look at Kansas City, where in 2007 AEG opened the Sprint Center with plans of attracting a professional franchise.
“I can assure you there is going to be an anchor tenant,” then-AEG President and CEO Tim Leiweke told the Kansas City Star in 2004.
Built for about $275 million, the Sprint Center hasn’t come particularly close to housing a professional franchise above the Arena Football League. By 2012, Leiweke was telling local media that Kansas City really didn’t need a team in the Sprint Center, and in fact one could “kill this building” if it didn’t do well.
It was a bit of backwards logic meant to cover for the construction of a beautiful arena that has turned into predominantly a concert venue. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it certainly isn’t what the Sprint Center was built for.
Similarly, T-Mobile Arena doesn’t need the NHL — or further down the road the NBA — to make it a success, but hockey was always part of the plan. The locker rooms, coaches’ offices and other team amenities are ready to go, sight lines up to the last row were kept clear to follow hockey’s quick action and the large ice-making equipment already in place wasn’t intended for just an occasional Disney on Ice event.
“When we heard MGM and AEG might be building an arena, we went to them and they said, ‘There’s not a might. We’re going to build the arena,’” Foley said. “Once that happened, we really knew we had something going.”
It took a lot of different pieces coming together to bring the NHL to Vegas. T-Mobile was one of the biggest.