Why Las Vegas Could Never Support an NHL Team

Sin City’s Major League Gamble

The arena’s owners have already welcomed the idea of an NHL team hitting their ice, while the league has given the go-ahead for a would-be NHL franchise owner, William Foley, to start a ticket drive to gauge interest in a possible Vegas team. “Las Vegas is a hockey city, and we believe THE TIME IS NOW to make it happen!” Foley wrote in an email, caps included, attempting to drum up support for the drive. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, meanwhile, said last month of Vegas, “I think in a whole host of ways, some of them very good and extraordinary, it’s a unique market.”

Is Vegas actually a hockey city, though? Skepticism is certainly warranted – even looking beyond the city’s obvious desert qualities – as the NHL’s record in traditionally non-hockey environs has been underwhelming. In the 1990s, the league shifted away from its traditional base in Canada and the American Northeast toward the U.S. South and West in an attempt to widen the game’s appeal and fan base. The league has mostly crapped out in the warmer climes.

The franchises in Dallas and Nashville consistently rank in the bottom third of the league’s attendance figures – and they’re the closest things to success stories. The Arizona Coyotes have been a basketcase of a franchise, falling into bankruptcy and eventually needing to be taken over by the league itself; the city of Glendale, Arizona, threw millions of dollars at the Coyotes and their home, now called Gila River Arena, with little hope of ever seeing a return. The Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning, meanwhile, are two of the NHL’s least valuable franchises.