Three Periods: Potential NHL owner says Las Vegas ticket drive off to great start (and it hasn't even started yet)

Three Periods: Potential NHL owner says Las Vegas ticket drive off to great start (and it hasn't even started yet)

Nicholas J. Cotsonika’s Three Periods column appears on Thursdays. This week’s topics include the upcoming season-ticket drive by the potential owners of an NHL expansion team in Las Vegas; more background on how Bill Foley fell in love with hockey and got involved with the Vegas bid; and notes on the New York Islanders and Detroit Red Wings.

FIRST PERIOD: Las Vegas ticket drive off to a good start before official start

The season-ticket drive doesn’t start until Tuesday. But the potential owners of an expansion franchise already have bet big on Las Vegas, and they think they are already well on their way to showing there is enough demand for the NHL on the Strip.

Bill Foley said he and the Maloof family probably will have spent $2.5 million “by the time we’re all done through the end of March.” They have paid for consultants and market studies. They have paid for a PR and marketing firm and a social media agency. They have paid for billboard, print, radio and TV advertising, including local Super Bowl spots on Sunday. They have paid for a sales staff and more.

“If we’re successful in the season-ticket drive, and we’re really confident we’re going to be, it’s money we would have spent anyway trying to sell season tickets,” Foley told Yahoo Sports. “So in that way, we’re not really risking anything as long as we’re successful. And if for some reason we’re not successful, then we shouldn’t be doing it anyway.”

Will the NHL find a home on the Strip in Las Vegas? (Getty)
Will the NHL find a home on the Strip in Las Vegas? (Getty)

Foley and the Maloofs have been in serious talks with the NHL for more than a year, since a $350-million, 20,000-seat arena began taking shape. Their market research showed 130,000 potential ticket-buyers in the Las Vegas area – 75,000 avid hockey fans, plus 55,000 others interested in seeing a game.

Still, the league wanted proof a franchise would be supported by everyday people, not just casinos. No major professional sports team has ever played in Las Vegas – a question mark on one hand, an opportunity to be first in the market on the other. So at its board of governors meeting in December, the league gave permission for a season-ticket drive.

The goal is to sell 10,000 season tickets, land a franchise and begin playing in 2016-17 after the arena opens. (Foley said publicly he preferred labeling the team Nevada, but after checking with his PR and marketing people, he told Yahoo Sports it would be Las Vegas. “We really feel like it needs to be Las Vegas, that that’s the identity that we need to associate with, that Nevada probably isn’t quite right,” he said. “But we are going to hold a naming contest.”)

What does selling 10,000 season tickets really mean? Convincing people to make deposits ranging from $150 to $900 and make commitments of one, three, five or 10 years. The deposits will go toward season tickets if the NHL awards Las Vegas a franchise and will be refunded if not.

There are six price points. The lowest estimated ticket price is $20 to $40 per game, the highest $150 to $220 per game. Foley said the overall average would be about $60, near the NHL average. The lowest four price points require one-, three-, and five-year terms. The highest two require three-, five- and 10-year terms.

The potential owners started with the idea of a Founding 50 – 50 people who would commit to buying or finding buyers for 60 season tickets each. They now have a Founding 75 that is actually a Founding 83. If those founders come through, that’s almost 5,000 season tickets right there.

Foley said a lot of founders had made 10-year commitments and bought at high price points, averaging $130 or $140 a ticket. He said they also had bought suites. The arena will have 44 suites, plus eight bunker suites near the ice. Half of the 44 suites have already been sold and the eight bunker suites have been sold out – all with multi-year commitments.

“I mean, I’m not cocky, but it’s going pretty well,” Foley said. “And we haven’t started.”

Foley said about 6,500 people had given their names, phone numbers and email addresses on the splash page VegasWantsHockey.com to show interest.

“We haven’t sold a ticket to one of those people yet,” Foley said.

Foley’s staff has been running stress tests on the website this week to make sure it can handle high traffic. There will be a press conference Tuesday. Then the season-ticket drive will be open to the general public.

“I believe it’s going to be great for Las Vegas,” Foley said. “If we’re fortunate enough to get a franchise, it will give Las Vegas an identity other than being a tourist town with great restaurants and gambling and shows and so on. It will give the residents of Las Vegas something to really identify with that’s going to be theirs. It would be terrific. And the arena’s unbelievable. I mean, we’re going to be so lucky to play in this arena.”

Foley said founder Daniel Negreanu, the Canadian professional poker champion, first gave this a 92-percent chance of success.

“Now he’s up to 96.5,” Foleys said with a laugh. “He knows the odds.”

SECOND PERIOD: How Foley first found hockey, how the Maloofs found him

Hockey? Simple. Foley grew up with a father in the U.S. Air Force. The family moved often. When he was in first, second and third grade, his father was stationed in Ottawa.

The NHL became interested in Las Vegas when plans for the new arena began to take shape. (AP)
The NHL became interested in Las Vegas when plans for the new arena began to take shape. (AP)

“I learned how to skate, and then we started playing hockey,” Foley said. “One neighborhood played the other neighborhood. We had neighborhood games. It was a lot of fun.”

He said he remained a hockey fan even after the family left Ottawa, even though he ended up living in non-hockey markets.

“I’m a hockey lover,” he said.

Vegas? That’s more complicated. Foley had become a billionaire businessman, and he was living in Jacksonville, Fla., when the Maloofs contacted him through a third party. They had owned the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. Now they were interested in an NFL franchise.

Foley had already looked into one.

“Nothing serious, but I had talked to some people, tried to figure it out some years before that,” Foley said. “And when they came in and started talking about it, I just said, ‘Hey, guys. First, you cannot move a team. It’s just almost impossible. So if you find a team that’s got some kind of distress going on, you’ve got to understand you’re going to be in that community for a long, long time. And it’s very expensive, very expensive. So that really isn’t something I’m interested in, because I’ve been down that road.’ ”

A few months later, the Maloofs called back. This time, they asked how he felt about the NHL in Las Vegas.

“I said, ‘Well, where’s the arena?’ ” Foley said.

They met with MGM and AEG, which were committed to building an arena on the Strip. Then they met with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and other league executives at a board of governors meeting in December 2013.

“We did all the talking,” Foley said. “They didn’t say anything.”

Then MGM and AEG laid out firm plans for the arena – a start date, a construction date, a completion date.

“That’s when the league got interested,” Foley said. “Once they started seeing these plans for this arena, that was a big first step for us, and then we had to be validated as potentially a good ownership group. I really feel like the NHL is confident that we can get the job done if they were to award us a franchise. …

“I really feel like we’ve kind of gotten over that hump. The biggest thing that I feel that we’re exposed to is demonstrating that a non-traditional hockey market is going to support hockey, and that’s our job right now, to get that done. …

“We believe that we can put a good team on the ice. Most of all, it’s going to be fun. I wouldn’t do this if it weren’t going to be fun.”

THIRD PERIOD: Notes from around the NHL

— One last thing on Vegas: Foley made an interesting comment about the market research. As you might expect, he said there were a lot of transplanted hockey fans from Canada and the northern United States in the area. But he also said this: “There are a lot of California transplants that are fans of the Ducks and the Sharks and the Kings.” So California has gone from a non-traditional expansion destination to a stronghold that produces fans for a new non-traditional market. The NHL has come a long way since the Gretzky trade, eh?

For all of the Islanders' successes this season, their penalty killing ranks last overall. (AP)
For all of the Islanders' successes this season, their penalty killing ranks last overall. (AP)

— The New York Islanders’ biggest weakness: penalty killing. They’re dead last in the NHL at 72.7 percent. Defenseman Travis Hamonic said they need to stay out of the box in the first place. “How do you stop a shark attack?” he said. “You stay out of the water.” But that isn’t really the problem. They have spent only 91:05 on the PK, second-least in the league. The problem has been a lot of little things that maybe have snowballed into something bigger – a mental block. “I try not to talk about it,” said Islanders coach Jack Capuano. “It’s like with your kids. You talk about things, and they start thinking about it. We’ve got a few things that we need to work on.”

— Capuano had a discussion on the plane recently with Ryan Strome, the 21-year-old center the Islanders took fifth overall in 2011. Strome has nine goals and 34 points so far in his first full NHL season. “When he plays with pace, he’s a really good player,” Capuano said. “But when he gets going through the motions and he doesn’t engage, and he has a tendency to do that sometimes, then you’re going to have some problems. “

— The Detroit Red Wings need a right-shot defenseman. The Toronto Maple Leafs have Cody Franson, a right-shot defenseman on an expiring contract. But at this point, why would the Wings want to rent Franson, especially if the Leafs want a high price? The biggest reason to bring in Franson would be to add offense, and the Wings already have the top-ranked power play in the NHL.

— Mathieu Schneider, who played 20 seasons as an NHL defenseman and is now the special assistant to NHL Players’ Association executive director Don Fehr, has expressed concern it might add strain on top players if the league went to 3-on-3 overtime and added two minutes to OT. But it’s important to note that the league has not proposed doing so yet, nor has the NHLPA polled its members to gauge their opinions and come up with an official position.

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