Would NHL Be Offsides In Las Vegas?

Download Audio

Near the western end of the Las Vegas strip, next door to the New York - New York resort, developers are building a 20,000-seat professional sports venue. But, when they build it, will the National Hockey League come?

To find out, Bill Littlefield spoke with ESPN hockey writer Scott Burnside.

BL: Scott, have people in Sin City been watching too much "Field of Dreams" lately or is the NHL actually considering putting a team in Las Vegas?

You can't rely on 17-or-18,000 people, 41 times a year, spilling out of the casinos and filling up the stands.

Scott Burnside, ESPN

The National Hockey League has given the potential owners of a new team, Bill Foley and the Maloof family, who are based in Las Vegas, a chance to run out a trial season-ticket program. My understanding is that it'll likely take place in the new year to see if there's enough support for the National Hockey League to expand into Las Vegas.

BL: A number of people, including Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, told you that Las Vegas is a big sports town. But has anybody demonstrated that it will be a big hockey town?

SB: Well, there is a history with the sport in the city. The Las Vegas Thunder had some success in Las Vegas in the early-to-mid '90s. There has been an ECHL team — the Wranglers — that has made inroads in the community for the last seven or eight years. But obviously, when you're talking about a major league team, it's a different beast altogether. You're talking about 41 home dates — you can't rely on 17-or-18,000 people, 41 times a year, spilling out of the casinos and filling up the stands.

I did a radio show out of Winnipeg the other night, and people there seem to think they might fill up plane after plane of fans headed from Winnipeg to Las Vegas if there was a chance to enjoy the city and watch some hockey. So there is that element to it. But the question is: are there enough people there that will make up a strong enough core group of fans to make this a viable operation? No one knows that.

BL: What does a city like Las Vegas potentially have to gain from acquiring a major league sport, and what does that league potentially have to lose by associating itself with Las Vegas?

[sidebar title="Remembering An Icon" width="630" align="right"] Only A Game remembers former Montreal Canadiens player and executive Jean Beliveau, who passed away last week. [/sidebar]SB: I don't know that there's anything to lose. I think there has been this notion -- you're going into the heart of sports gambling and all those things. But hockey represents a very, very small amount of the wagering done on sports in the sports books — one to three percent.

I don't see that as being a real issue. Would it actually happen? We've seen it happen in other markets, but there is no market exactly like Las Vegas — not just in North America but maybe anywhere in the world.

BL: Seattle, Quebec City and Toronto are reportedly also being considered as landing sites for an NHL team. Do any of those make more sense than Las Vegas?

SB: Seattle is an attractive market. It creates a natural rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks. It has a history of hockey in the community. But there is no arena there. Without the arena there, it's simply not going to happen for the NHL. The fact is, Las Vegas has deep-pocketed owners ready to take on a team. They have a world-class facility that's being built without taxpayer money, without controversy, and I think that's why Las Vegas has jumped far into the front of the expansion race.

Toronto Maple Leafs don't want another NHL team in the Toronto area. Quebec City, they are building an arena, but I think that NHL might use that Quebec City location as a Plan B for relocation if a team in south Florida, where the Panthers have struggled in terms of attendance. So right now it looks like Las Vegas or bust, if I can use that term.

More NHL Coverage:

This segment aired on December 13, 2014.


More from Only A Game

Listen Live