Why Hockey Won’t Work In Las Vegas

Bob Krist/Corbis

Bob Krist/Corbis

Over the Summer, the hockey world was abuzz over the potential for NHL expansion. At some points, it looked like a sure thing. The NHL was quick to deny rumors that they would be expanding by four teams in Las Vegas, Seattle, Quebec City, and Toronto. Three of those could be pretty viable options. Seattle has the passion for hockey and the proximity to Vancouver to make hockey work. Once they get an arena, it should happen. Quebec City has supported hockey in the past, and could easily do it again. Toronto, or the surrounding area, has the hockey fans required to eat into the Leafs’ stranglehold on the region.

The location that won’t work: Las Vegas.

Sin City is a fantastic town with so many different activities. But, consistent NHL hockey should not be one of them. There are occasionally preseason games in Vegas, which are fun events. The new MGM-AEG arena is currently under construction and would be located between the Monte Carlo and New York-New York casinos, a prime location. It would have the capacity for NHL hockey.

Think about what the arena will be like. Most likely, it will have suites galore. Those suites will be bought by all the big Vegas casinos, who will sell individual game experiences to their guests, much like they do for attractions like the Blue Man Group or Cirque Du Soleil. Essentially, it would be a crowd of tourists every night. Season ticket revenues will probably be nonexistent, as the Vegas locals may not be able to afford the rising ticket prices. Much like New York Rangers games feel like a corporate showcase with all the suites and luxury, Vegas hockey games will feel like a tourist attraction. A true fanbase would be almost negligible.

Other expansion franchises in nontraditional hockey markets have succeeded because they have grown the game at the grassroots level. More rinks are popping up everywhere in the Sun Belt and the South. The Nashville Predators just opened up a beautiful new hockey center right outside of Nashville. More kids are picking up hockey sticks and lacing up their skates. This wouldn’t happen in Vegas. With the team’s tourist clientele, there will hardly be any kids coming to the games and being inspired to play hockey.

If this Vegas team becomes a tourist attraction, then the local population won’t buy into the team as well. You don’t see Vegas residents seeing Blue Man Group every night, do you? The team will certainly thrive, as revenues from the casinos and their wealthy clientele will make the ownership a lot of money. But, it won’t be the right atmosphere for a team. Do we want to degrade the wonderful game of hockey into a tourist attraction?

All of this is true hockey and all other professional sports. Las Vegas is a tourist mecca, and will always be that way. It simply won’t work as a “hockey town,” or a “sports town” in general.


Bob Krist/Corbis