Las Vegas is not only the unofficial entertainment “capital” of the United States, but is known worldwide for being a hub for the biggest names in business, gaming, entertainment, and much more. Professional sports also have a foothold in Las Vegas, though much of the sports presence revolves around Mixed Martial Arts, boxing, and NASCAR. You’d think that Las Vegas would be a great place for sports teams within the “4 Major Sports” to call home, but that has never been the case up to this point… Let’s take a look at a few reasons why that is the case.
First of all, the big “elephant in the room” when it comes to the reluctance of the NBA, MLB, NHL, and the NFL to embrace Las Vegas is the presence of legalized gambling. For years, each of the four major sports leagues has essentially turned a blind eye towards gambling, choosing to ignore the real prevalence of illegal gambling and position themselves as the moral opposition. It is an odd situation when you look at it from the outside because the major leagues have to be aware of the increased interest of their leagues that comes from gambling interests, yet they repeatedly claim that publicly embracing gambling would morally compromise the integrity of their respective games.
Aside from the big issue of gambling, another potential issue is the fact that Las Vegas has an unusually high percentage of tourists as opposed to full-time residents. This poses an issue in terms of developing a true home fan base that can be counted on to buy tickets and fill arenas or stadiums consistently. There is a justified concern that Las Vegas has too many other attractions and an overwhelmingly transient nature that it may prove difficult to sustain attendance for a pro team, regardless of sport. That concern has ultimately scared a lot of people away from taking to big leap to try to make it in Sin City.
This avoidance of Las Vegas seemed like it would last forever, until Bill Foley arrived on the scene this year. Foley, the Chairman of Black Knight Financial, Inc. and a former West Point graduate, grew up loving hockey and maintains a deep love for the game to this day. Bill Foley, along with the powerful Maloof family (who have a long history of owning professional sports franchises and base their operations out of Las Vegas), showed no fear of the previous pitfalls for professional franchises in Las Vegas. They presented the NHL with a proposal that Commissioner Gary Bettman and the other owners ultimately could not refuse. After so much time without professional sports in the entertainment capital of the world, the 2017-2018 NHL season will be the first in which a team hails from Las Vegas.
Bill Foley, the Maloof family, and also the NHL are taking a major leap here, and they all deserve credit for their willingness to embrace the unknown and take a chance. The new franchise is still in its infancy, as you can see by the fact that it does not even have a name yet (Foley is pushing for “Knights” or “Black Knights” as an homage to his time at West Point and his financial company that goes by the same name.) What is more important here than anything superficial like a name, logo, etc., is the fact that the founders of the Las Vegas franchise, led by Bill Foley, are embarking on a quest that nobody has succeeded in before and they are doing it with a remarkable sense of confidence. For example, Foley is already on record predicting that he will bring a Stanley Cup to Las Vegas within eight years. To some that may seem like hubris or bluster, but it strikes me as a deeply rooted confidence and conviction that reminds me of Herb Brooks.
There are actually many similarities between what the new Las Vegas franchise is attempting to do and what our 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team sought to do, and ultimately accomplished. First of all, both set out to achieve a goal that was seen as “impossible” to the public. We were able to break the mold and achieve the “impossible” in 1980 through a shared dream and relentless commitment to breaking new ground. That work ethic and winning environment was put into practice and drilled until success by Herb Brooks, who led with the same relentlessness that he demanded of us.
The same type of tenacity will be required of the entire Las Vegas NHL team, from the executives down to the players, and it all starts with Bill Foley. To this point, he has demonstrated a strong commitment to succeeding in this unprecedented endeavor, particularly in assembling the right players in his ownership group in order to get approval from the NHL. From here, it will be most important for Foley to continue picking the right players to run his franchise, like Herb Brooks did in 1980. Thus far, Foley has hired respected veteran General Manager George McPhee. McPhee was the longtime G.M. of the Washington Capitals and built the once fledgling franchise into the force that it is today. McPhee has already commented on his philosophy of hiring an experienced and diverse scouting staff as well as the desire not to rush into making a head coaching decision until he finds the right candidate. All of the indications so far show that Foley made a sound philosophical choice in McPhee has his General Manager, but the results obviously remain to be seen. Foley and McPhee have a lot more work to do, but they appear to have a good rapport and shared vision, which is integral to developing a winning culture.
I believe that Bill Foley can and will lead his team to sustainable success and, in the process, to officially make the “impossibility” of a professional sports franchise in Las Vegas into a reality. I am rooting for their success and hope that Bill Foley can follow in Herb Brooks’ footsteps as a hockey leader who was told it could not be done yet embraced the challenge anyway. Herb stayed resolute all the way through with us in 1980 and we achieved all of our goals. If Foley and his team can do the same, then his Stanley Cup prediction for eight years from now could very well come true.