There have been few headlines from the NHL over the past few weeks. However, the one that has stuck out the most, is a possible NHL expansion. The rumored expansion would mean that the NHL would have teams in Seattle, Las Vegas, Quebec, and an additional team in the Toronto area as soon as 2016. While the NHL’s Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly has kept behind closed doors throughout most of this, major sports websites have continued to weigh their opinions on the issue. While most people see little to no problem adding teams to the hard working city of Seattle, the historic Quebec city area, or adding an additional team to North America’s largest hockey area Toronto; that still leaves one area for questioning, Las Vegas.
With a city population of only 596,424 (as of 2012), Las Vegas would rank 20th among all NHL cities and 21st among all metropolitan areas. If Seattle, Quebec, and Toronto were added as well, Seattle would be 17th in both categories, Quebec would be 18th in both categories, and Toronto would be 4th in city population and 9th in metropolitan area. Las Vegas would be last among all rumored expansion teams and would likely draw a lower amount of fans.
Compared to the other rumored cities, Las Vegas would again be a distant last in possible fan base. Toronto would be the highest market for hockey by far. According to a study done last year by fivethirtyeight.com, the Greater Toronto area consists of roughly 5,090,069 hockey fans. Quebec City would consist of 529,908 hockey fans.
This study also has some parts that I would question such as why Seattle only has 241,463 hockey fans, only 5% of the cities population. While Seattle has never hosted an NHL team, they have had the Seattle Thunderbirds for decades and the team has always been successful. In the team’s 37 year history, the team has only missed the playoffs 10 times. That being said, I believe that the hockey market would be considerably higher in that area.
Las Vegas however, comes in at 90,918 hockey fans. That number is could be considerably high. In the southwest, no city with an existing NHL team has a higher percentage of hockey fans than Phoenix and Los Angeles at 6%. It seems unlikely that putting a team in an area where a team with almost triple Las Vegas’ estimated fans (Phoenix) would be able to last when Phoenix is already struggling as it is.
Finally, Las Vegas has never been home to a professional sports team. The city has featured the Las Vegas Bowl for college sports, Las Vegas Motor Speedway for automotive racing, the USA Sevens for rugby, along with many other sports. Only one minor league hockey team has ever called Las Vegas home, the Las Vegas Wranglers.
The Wranglers have been somewhat successful, only missing the playoffs once since it’s inaugural season in 2003-2004. However there is one major difference, revenue. Even with this success, the team cannot consistently sell out its 7,773-seat venue. The team averages about 4,600 ticket sales per game and while that is fairly decent for an ECHL team, how can the city expect to quadruple the ticket sales automatically with an NHL franchise?
However this is the NHL. Some things that have happened had odds that were next to none. Sure, some teams like Los Angeles have somehow found a way to succeed when everyone counted them out. However, after the recent lockouts and losing contracts with ESPN, the NHL cannot hope for the improbable. They need to be smart and only make decisions that can benefit the league.
While I personally don’t mind change, I believe there are several different ways to bring hockey to Las Vegas other than this plan. If the NHL is completely serious with bringing a team to Vegas, it would make more sense to test an AHL team in the city before jumping directly to the NHL.
Move the Manchester Monarchs to Vegas. It would allow Los Angeles Kings fans to be tempted to go see their new prospects without having to cross the entire country. The same could be done with the Norfolk Admirals or Worcester Sharks. There are so many different options that the NHL can utilize before gambling on a team in the “Gambling Capitol of the World.”