8 ways the Vegas Golden Knights won over new fans

It’s probably safe to say that sports fans of a certain age shouldn’t be seeking out new favourite teams. I don’t subscribe to that thinking but most people I know who have been sports fans for more than a couple decades are diehards for whichever club they’ve grown up with.

I’ve been more of a floater in my fandom. As a young sports enthusiast, my fandom would fluctuate depending on some sort of uniform colour combination plus which superstars were on cereal boxes plus which players I just loved watching. In other words, the 9-year-old me was a Los Angeles Kings, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bulls and Toronto Blue Jays fan (the latter being my hometown team, and the one franchise I fanned out over for the most consistent stretch of time, which was basically into my mid-teens).

Years later there I was covering the NHL Western Conference final in Vegas (!), still with no particular allegiance to a team, and definitely skeptical that Sin City would win me over as my new favourite hockey town. Well, it did, and here’s how the Golden Knights won over this free-agent fan.

Vegas electricity

Games 3 and 4 in Vegas were my first-ever live playoff hockey games and they’re easily among the most memorable experiences I’ve had as a fan. My dad and I recently ranked our favourite live games and at the top of the list was Vince Carter’s buzzer-beater against the Raptors after his trade to the Nets; Game 4 of the 1993 Blue Jays-White Sox; Mikael Kingsbury winning moguls gold at the 2018 Olympics; Jason Giambi’s walk-off RBI in Boston’s final game at old Yankee Stadium; and Andrea Bargnani’s career-high 41 points against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. I’ve been to no-hitters, Grey Cups, NBA playoffs, the Canada Cup and saw Jordan at the SkyDome. All that’s to say is I’ve been to some pretty cool games and none of them (outside of some early 2000 Raptors playoff games) have I felt the type of energy that consumed T-Mobile Arena. Forget about what happened on the ice — the experience from the stands was enough to hook me.

Positive vibes all around

The Golden Knights seemed incredibly likeable during my limited encounters with the team in Vegas. Nate Schmidt and Marc-Andre Fleury were super cool with the media, which not only helps me do my job better but also helps better appreciate the athletes as human beings. It can be a perk or drawback of being a sports fan working in media, and in this case it without a doubt increased my interest in the Golden Knights. That same sentiment holds true for every communications person, staff member or T-Mobile Arena employee I interacted with during the WCF. No question was too stupid, no request was too unreasonable. From my perspective, that’s the type of periphery stuff fans don’t typically see that makes this franchise so legit.

The whole time zone thing

I’m an East Coast guy but it’s hard not to fall in love with sports out West. First of all, I’m old, so watching a game at 8 or 9 means I’m going to feel like crap at work the next day. On the flip side, we were leaving T-Mobile Arena by 10 or 11 after finishing our media obligations, which out East would have had us there well past midnight. That means either more time for beer or sleep. Either way, West Coast watching for the win.

Viewing parties on steroids

On a related note, the Vegas fans do viewing parties right. I’m not one for crowded public spaces, so you won’t find me watching Leafs or Raptors games in Maple Leaf Square (even though it most definitely looks like an exciting spot to watch a big game if that’s your thing), but given I’m doing the content thing I decided to indulge in the fan experience while in Vegas. The setup at T-Mobile was optimal, with the one exception being the USD$16 beers (plus tip). The tailgate outside of the arena is super spacious with lots of room to roam in a non-claustrophobic way, there was a pregame concert on stage, a couple Budweiser bar trucks for additional seating (big Budweiser guy here, don’t @ me), and a very cool cobblestone walkway with music, games, flat screens, and patio bars for a block-party type experience.

We’re talking about practice?!

The ancillary experiences are something the Golden Knights really do well. Practice is an event in itself, with complete unobstructed access for fans and media alike at the City National Arena. Vegas fans fill up the stands, dance to the DJ, indulge at the sports bar and apparel store, and wave goodbye to the players as they drive away from the parking lot when practice is over. It felt like the youth sports team you played on as a kid where everyone at the stadium or park knew each other’s name, and you all grabbed hot dogs and ice cream from the vendor in the parking lot afterward (mind you, the Lamborghinis in the lot are a quick reminder this is not minor hockey).

Pretty good at that hockey thing

Not to bury the lede here but the Golden Knights are a damn good team. I’m no front-runner fan by nature but as a sports enthusiast it has to be next to impossible to connect with a non-local expansion team that isn’t good. So the Knights certaintly have that going for them. That Vegas has a talented, if unspectacular team, with players who have embraced the city and vice versa, it makes it quite easy as a free-agent fan to get on board with them in Year 1 while there’s still room on the bandwagon.

Top-notch arena experience

T-Mobile Arena is awesome. I touched on the experience already but it cannot be overstated how electric the atmosphere is inside the Golden Knights’ barn. From the over-the-top pregame hype video, to the Fleury chants, and general pandemonium from the moment the puck drops, the energy inside T-Mobile is so contagious it feels weird not cheering for the Knights. The cozy layout has something for everyone – apparel shops, a badass outdoor deck, VIP bars, and better-than-average food selections like sushi burritos (the gummy bear bowl in the press box is a very nice touch, too). Simply put, it’s a state-of-the-art facility with a rock star vibe and is a five-minute walk away to your favourite casino.

Vegas Strong

It’s impossible to separate the Golden Knights from Vegas Strong. There are reminders of the unthinkable tragedy everywhere you look in Vegas and several fans we spoke to during our week there referred to it as a defining moment for the city, franchise and its fans. Most people couldn’t talk about it without getting emotional, and that’s when you remember the Golden Knights’ season is about way more than just hockey. It’s really easy to trivialize sports in this context, but the franchise has without question played a key role in the healing of this city. The sense I got from talking to fans was that they want more fans not less. Sign me up.

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