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November 24, 2017

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By the time Raiders come, Golden Knights will have ‘real foothold’ in Las Vegas

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Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau

Team owners, from left, Bill Foley, Gavin Maloof and George Maloof try on branded caps while sportscaster Chris Maathuis speaks at the unveiling of the name of the NHL’s newest team, the Vegas Golden Knights, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, at Toshiba Plaza.

The introduction of major league sports into Las Vegas has been nothing short of a hat trick, officials associated with the Vegas Golden Knights said.

Executives from the NHL and AEG, the sports and entertainment company which with MGM Resorts International owns T-Mobile Arena, couldn’t be happier with how the city has embraced its first major league franchise.

The Golden Knights capped their season ticket sales earlier this month, with a large share of the 17,500 seats at T-Mobile Arena purchased.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm for the Golden Knights who start this October,” said Keith Wachtel, chief revenue officer for the NHL speaking in Las Vegas last week. “We’re excited about it — this community is rallying around it. We sold over 14,000 season tickets — none were to casinos or corporations. They have a franchise evaluation of $500 million, for a team in Las Vegas, we’re excited."

Despite the NFL’s plans to enter the market in 2020 when the Raiders’ proposed 65,000-seat domed stadium is complete, Wachtel said the league isn’t worried about the major league competition.

“This is Vegas’ team,” he said. “There’s a lot of talk about the NFL coming in. If and when they do that in a few years, they (the Golden Knights) will have a real foothold on this community.”

The work the hockey franchise is putting into the valley is what will not only draw in fans in Las Vegas, but keep them, when the Raiders begin play, Wachtel said.

Examples include the construction of a practice facility (in Summerlin), working with area youth to get them involved in the sport, and hosting special events, he said.

“What they’re doing is really grassroots,” he said. “They’re really reaching out to the community to get more and more kids playing the sport. Ultimately that’s going to grow the television market.”

With the addition of the team, the annual NHL Awards continuing to be hosted in Las Vegas and the expansion draft in town on June 21, Wachtel said Las Vegas is a hockey hotbed.

“This market is on fire right now for the sport of hockey,” he said.

Although the city’s transient nature is sometimes considered a negative attribute when it comes to being a major league host, Wachtel said it will actually aid the Golden Knights.

“There’s certainly a lot of transplants here, it’s probably the No. 1 destination for people coming from other areas,” he said. “We’re going to get a lot of loyal fans that call the team their own. But, when you come to Vegas, as people do on a regular basis, and you go see a professional hockey game for $100, which is what the cost is to see a show in this town, I think it’s going to be exciting.”

Todd Goldstein, chief revenue officer for AEG, agreed with Wachtel, saying those who relocated here from other hockey towns bring their passion for the game with them.

“There are a lot of transplants from cold weather areas, whether that’s Canada, Boston, New York or Chicago … They are incredibly knowledgable about the sport,” Goldstein said. “It’s not like they’re showing up in a small city — there are a lot of people who are true hockey fans who are going to embrace this team.”

Those factors and the location of T-Mobile Arena on the Las Vegas Strip set up the Golden Knights for success, Goldstein said.

“The team has really been embraced by the community — you couldn’t ask for a better location,” he said. “The fact that it’s got public transportation, you can walk to the arena (from hotels), it’s really easy to get in and out of there for the local community, which is most of that 14,000 season ticket base.”

With all of T-Mobile Arena’s suites sold out, the majority of its sponsorships sold and the community’s embracement, Goldstein said he can’t remember a better start of a new major league sports team.

“I don’t know that there’s been a more successful launch of a franchise that’s happened in any market,” Goldstein said. “Whether it’s the NBA, the NHL, the fact that they bought this many season tickets really speaks to the amount of passion this community has for having their own first team and having it be hockey.”

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