Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018 | 2 a.m.
A black and gold motor coach is barnstorming through the Rocky Mountains region, carrying Golden Knights players Nate Schmidt, Brad Hunt, Jon Merrill and Nic Hague — along with the team’s mascot, Chance the gila monster.
It’s the second-annual road trip north to spread the Golden Knights brand after owner Bill Foley ambitiously stated he wanted the franchise to become the “team of the Rockies.”
The players made a stop in Reno on Monday to meet fans and will be stopping in Boise, Idaho, today. The bus will then make its way to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, on Thursday and finish in Salt Lake City on Friday.
“On this bus trip, we’re hitting some of the bigger cities, whereas on the first one, we went to smaller ones,” Foley said. “I have a lot of relationships in Montana, so we’ll be back there next year.”
Last year’s trip hit Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Whitefish and Bozeman, Montana, and Salt Lake City. The average population of those cities was 74,139 compared to 168,170 this year.
There are no NHL teams in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming or Montana, and Foley hopes to make the region Golden Knights country.
The team’s broadcast territory with AT&T Sports Network covers the entire area, and after last season’s miracle run to the Stanley Cup Final, the team is quickly building a regional fan base.
“I’m pretty happy with the progress we made,” Foley said. “I think it’s possible our team became the second-favorite team of every fan in North America. After everyone else’s team lost, they rooted for us because we were the underdogs. Plus our jersey is cool, so we sold a lot of jerseys.”
The Golden Knights are the most successful expansion team in professional sports history, and that’s been an easy story for sports fans to latch onto.
“I think for a lot of people, it was a lot of fun to jump on the bandwagon,” said Devin Dixon, who hosts The Drive on ESPN Radio 97.7 FM in St. George, Utah. “They’re a new team, so no one can criticize you for it.”
“We started getting a lot more interaction from callers when we talked Golden Knights,” Dixon said. “It slowly built during the year, and the playoff run was incredible. We did watch parties, and it wasn’t like we had hundreds of people, but we had 30-40 people come out and watch the game, which is awesome.”
Foley, who spends his summers in Montana, saw the region as underrepresented on the professional sports landscape.
“I feel like they have no one to root for,” Foley said. “They’re all huge hockey fans. They love the sport, so they end up rooting for Chicago or Minnesota. If they’re Canadian, they might like Edmonton or Calgary, but those games are on TSN, so they have a hard time watching them. I believe it’s a long, slow building process, but we are doing a great job.”
The Golden Knights were ratings gold in Las Vegas during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, pulling an average rating of 13.06 for their games, compared to 2.03 for all other playoff games.
And they drew well in other markets, too. In the San Francisco Bay Area, Golden Knights games drew a 1.57 rating, compared to 0.38 for other playoff games. In Salt Lake City, the Golden Knights pulled a 1.61 rating, compared to 0.61 for other games.
“I think we’re doing really well,” Foley said. “It’s hard to penetrate a market like Montana that is very dispersed and has smaller towns.”
Foley said he has seen multiple Golden Knights bumper stickers in Montana this offseason, and Dixon said he regularly sees them in Utah. Among Golden Knights season ticket holders, 10.6 percent are from outside Nevada, so fans are traveling to see games.
“I thought we really did a fantastic job in becoming part of Vegas and to a lesser extent, we did a good job in the West,” Foley said. “Sometimes I’ll see a Golden Knights logo and I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished.”