Las Vegas Wins NHL Franchise Amidst Criticism of the Decision
The National Hockey League is in the midster of expansion and it looks like Las Vegas is at the top of the list of expansion sites. The decision by the NHL’s Executive Committee to admit Las Vegas as the latest new franchise in the league has stirred controversy. Ironically, little of the controversy deals with the city’s gambling culture.
Las Vegas won the bid behind finance industry billionaire Bill Foley’s “Vegas Wants Hockey” movement. Bill Foley is going to be the owner of the Las Vegas franchise. His wealth came from Foley’s role as chiarman of Fidelity National Financial, Inc., ServiceLink, and Black Knight Financial Services.
Las Vegas Franchise Name Suggestions
Sports media and fan sites have suggested names like the Las Vegas Wranglers, Las Vegas Aces, Las Vegas Ice Rebels, Las Vegas Outlaws, and T-Mobile Las Vegas. While soccer clubs sometimes name themselves “FC Dallas” or “DC United”, I cannot imagine a team calling themselves after their sponsor in such a way.
Of those names, the Las Vegas Aces seems the most natural and most inspired. Whether the NHL will want a team that invokes gambling is another matter, though the franchise’s promotions department could always choose a logo that looks like fighter aces (since the famous Nellis Air Force Base is nearby).
Complaints about the Decision
On the American side of the US-Canadian border, arguments have been made against Las Vegas as a viable place for pro hockey. The sports website Five Thirty-Eight published an article in April 2015 making a case against a Las Vegas hockey franchise, showing the abysmal attendance record of Las Vegas sports franchises. The same article pointed to the six NHL cities with the worst attendance records and showed demographic similarities between those cities and Las Vegas.
Bad Demographic Picture
Each of those cities — Nashville, Columbus, Tampa, Miami, Phoenix, and Raleigh — are either warm weather US cities or they are smaller markets. Several of them are both, like Las Vegas. As Five Thirty-Eight makes the case, the further one gets from Canada, the worse attendance figures are going to be. The only exceptions are Los Angeles and Dallas, which are listed as the 2nd and 9th largest cities in the United States — 2nd and 4th, if you count the metropolitan areas surrounding cities.
Unless a warm weather U.S. city has a massive population base of 7 million people or more, then it appears the NHL struggles in those cities. The metropolitan area surrounding Las Vegas sits at about 2.1 million, or 29th in the nation.
Quebec City Is Jilted
Granted, the main competition north of the border is Quebec City, which pales in comparison when it comes to population centers. Quebec City has a population a little over 500,000, while its metropolitan area’s population is over 800,000. On population figures alone, Las Vegas has Quebec City beaten.
That’s where the arguments about warm weather/cold weather and American/Canadian sites becomes a factor. The fact is, hockey is a virtual religion in Quebec. In Las Vegas, it is going to be far down the list of attractions. Tourists are not that likely to take in a hockey game, while the locals have better things to do. Los Angeles did without an NFL franchise for 20 years, because NFL owners realized Southern Californians were not that interested in attending football games.
SI’s Opinion on the Decision
As Allan Muir wrote for Sports Illustrated about the decision, “On the surface, it doesn’t make much sense. The city has a rich and long-standing hockey history, a deep and passionate fan base, a brilliantly appointed new arena and, most important, a well-heeled owner-in-waiting.
“You could have bet the house on QC, a market that, in the words of NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, ‘checks off all the boxes.’ But the Executive Committee was looking for more than just an impressive application. It needed two things that Quebec City couldn’t provide: location and a stable currency.”
The current weakness of the Canadian dollar is seen as a major reason, though. In 2014, the Canadian dollar was worth $0.92 compared to the U.S. dollar. The commodities market was strong at the time, and Canada is one of the world’s top sources of commodities. Since then, the commodities market has plummeted, causing the Canadian dollar to fall to $0.68 at one point. Now, it’s at $0.78.
NHL Lost $200 Million on Canadian Dollar
Experts say that would be high enough, but the fluctuations itself have NHL officials worried. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman claimed that tumbling Canadian dollar was going to cost the league $200 million this year. Given the figures, a new Canadian franchise was never much of a possibility.
Location is also against Quebec City. The 30-franchise NHL at present has 16 teams in its Eastern Conference and 14 teams in its Western Conference. The league wanted to add a team in the geographic west, so Quebec City did not make much sense.
Quebec Nordiques Fans Must Wait
Therefore, a revival of the Quebec Nordiques is going to have to wait at least another year. Meanwhile, the NHL can pocket a $500 million franchise fee from the city of Las Vegas. Whatever the demographic and cultural arguments against Las Vegas hockey, money is the deciding factor.
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