The National Hockey League (NHL) has chosen Las Vegas for its next expansion franchise, according to multiple reports, with the decision set to make it the first North American major league to set foot in the Nevada city.
The Associated Press news agency and Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper both cited three sources in close connection to the process in their reports. The AP said the candidature of Las Vegas been recommended by the NHL Executive Committee ahead of the league’s Board of Governors meeting on June 22 – a gathering that is scheduled to be held in the city.
The Las Vegas franchise is expected to begin play in the 2017-18 season, which is the earliest the league could expand, according to a person who has been briefed on the decision. An expansion fee of around $500m (€443.3m) is being targeted for any new franchise, with Las Vegas franchise organisers needing to prove they can meet this mark before a team is awarded.
The NHL has been comprised of 30 teams since the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Minnesota Wild began play in 2000, with those ownership groups paying $80m each for their franchises. Las Vegas and Quebec City moved on to the final phase of the NHL’s expansion process in August after the league in July said it would focus exclusively on proposals for expansion franchises received from groups in the US and Canadian cities following applications from an initial 16 expressions of interest.
The AP said Quebec City still has a strong bid, but NHL owners have expressed concerns about the strength of the Canadian dollar and a geographical imbalance if they add another team to the Eastern Conference, which currently has 16 teams to the West’s 14.
Las Vegas Hockey Vision, the group led by Bill Foley that includes the Maloof family, is leading a proposal that would see an NHL team compete in the new arena developed by AEG and MGM Resorts on the Las Vegas Strip. The T-Mobile Arena (pictured) opened in April and staged its first major sporting event on May 7 as Canelo Alvarez knocked out Amir Khan in a middleweight boxing title bout.
The Las Vegas bid says it has already secured more than 14,000 season-ticket deposits for the new team at the 17,500-seat arena. “This could be a watershed moment for our community and sports in Southern Nevada,” Jonas Peterson, president and chief executive of the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance, said, according to the AP. “Having a professional hockey team will not only boost our economy, but also our sense of community pride.”
Commenting on the reports, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman told the Review-Journal: “We’ve grown up. It’s an exciting step for us, but I’m waiting for the Board of Governors to approve it before I start to really celebrate. Hats off to Bill Foley for having the vision to pull it off and to do it the right way by putting the pieces together in the right order.”
The North American major leagues have been opening up to Las Vegas as a destination, having been wary of the potential drawbacks of its status as a huge sports betting hub. NFL American football franchise the Oakland Raiders has held serious talks with the city’s leaders in recent months over relocating to Nevada.