Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Longtime Las Vegas resident Geoff Bennett stood on the concrete floor of T-Mobile Arena Tuesday afternoon, photographing his 2-year-old son Liam standing in the penalty box.
Eight months from now, the concrete will be covered with ice and some of the best hockey players on the planet will be sitting in the very same penalty box.
Professional sports build a sense of community in a city, giving families something to gather around and bond over. Vegas Golden Knights fans got their first taste of that on Tuesday as the team held a 24-hour open house at T-Mobile Arena.
Children decked from head to toe in Golden Knights gear slapped pucks into nets and played games on the arena floor while season ticket holders, and those considering purchasing season tickets, viewed the rink from their future seats.
“This has been awesome, and it’s something I can share with my son, so it’s cool,” Bennett said. “I’ve been a hockey fan my whole life so now that we finally have a team here, it’s a pretty cool experience to be able to go down where the ice would be. ”
Bennett was born in California and was there for the expansion of the then-Mighty Ducks of Anaheim into the National Hockey League. He has lived in Las Vegas since he was 14 years old and said he can’t wait to experience another expansion, this time with his son.
“Now that I can walk through the arena it feels more real,” Bennett said, sporting a Vegas Knights hat and sweater. “I’ve been getting excited the whole time anyways though.”
He plans on purchasing season tickets and will likely have to do so soon. The number of season tickets remaining is dwindling, as was on display at the T-Mobile on Tuesday. Seats available for purchase were marked with white price tags, and they were few and far between.
“Being able to sit down in the seat and actually see what you’re going to be purchasing is awesome,” Bennett said. “Being able to see what the rink is going to look is vital to purchasing them.”
Jim Carletta, who has lived in Las Vegas for 26 years, brought his grandson Ethan to the arena to admire the view from his season tickets that he had already purchased.
“It has been a long time coming,” Carletta said. “It gives you something to do, something to take up your time and I’m happy I could bring my grandson out.”
Fans lined up outside the arena for the opening at 8 a.m. Tuesday morning. The event was free and open to the public, and runs through 8 a.m. Wednesday.
“We had people pushing strollers and families coming in at 8 a.m. when we opened and we are up around 3,000 people already,” said Nehme Abouzeid, Golden Knights senior vice president and chief marketing officer.
The turnout vastly exceeded the team’s expectations.
“We are a three-shift town with day, swing and overnight,” Abouzeid said. “We have a lot of people that work hard on the Strip and have crazy schedules, so we have to be sensitive to our fan base and where they come from.”
Abouzeid joined the Golden Knights after spending 13 years in the casino industry working for the Wynn and Las Vegas Sands.
“We are the newest headliner on the Strip and it’s very exciting to be that,” Abouzeid said. “But unlike a stage show, we have a different product every night for 41 games a year.”
Also unlike most shows on the Strip, the Golden Knights intend to target locals in favor of tourists.
“We are expecting 85-90 percent of the fans that fill the seats here at T-Mobile Arena to be from the local community,” Golden Knights President Kerry Bubolz said. “Yes, we are targeting certain product for the convention and leisure travelers, but that’s a small percentage of our overall ticketing portfolio.”
Tickets for 11- and 22-game packages were available for those not ready to fully commit to season tickets, with seats available for as low as $50 per game. Bubolz also said there will be single-game group packages for even cheaper as the season draws nearer, perfect for local youth hockey teams or church groups.
The city is only eight months away from the debut of its first-ever major professional sports franchise.
“Looking towards June when we start to get closer to the expansion draft, the amateur draft and the free-agency period, we will start to have faces of our organization -- actual players,” Bubolz said. “The greatest players in the world will be coming right here to Vegas and it’s going to be awesome.”