NHL WILL THINK BIG­GER

League to ex­plore ex­pan­sion; fee for new team( s) could be huge. Ve­gas is a can­di­date.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Lisa Dill­man

LAS VE­GAS — There might be a sim­pler way to de­scribe the NHL’s de­ci­sion to ex­plore ex­pand­ing be­yond 30 teams.

The Half- Bil­lion­aire Boys Club.

That’s what it will prob­a­bly cost — about $ 500 mil­lion — for the NHL to be­come a 31- or 32- team league, one that could in­clude a Las Ve­gas fran­chise led by mogul Bill Fo­ley. The league’s Board of Gover­nors on Wed­nes­day au­tho­rized a for­mal process to eval­u­ate in­ter­est, with the ap­pli­ca­tion pe­riod run­ning from July 6 to Aug. 10.

The board also ap­proved rule changes put forth Tues­day by the league’s gen­eral man­agers.

The pos­si­ble Las Ve­gas ex­pan­sion bid was front and cen­ter at NHL Com­mis­sioner Gary Bettman’s news con­fer­ence at the MGM Grand. If ap­proved, it would be the f irst ma­jor pro­fes­sional sports team in Las Ve­gas. Fo­ley has com­mit­ments for 13,200 sea­son tick­ets for a po­ten­tial fran­chise, ac­cord­ing to NHL Deputy Com­mis­sioner Bill Daly. Daly added that the ear­li­est pos­si­ble ex­pan­sion could be for the 2016- 17 sea­son.

Other groups that have ex­pressed in­ter­est in the NHL in­clude Que­bec City, Seat­tle, the sub­ur­ban Toronto area and Kansas City, Mo., which al­ready has an arena.

Bettman said it would

take at least $ 500 mil­lion to join the club.

“We haven’t set a fee, but based on the dis­cus­sions I’ve had with own­er­ship, I don’t think there would be any ap­petite to ex­pand if the num­ber didn’t start with a f ive,” he said.

For the sake of com­par­i­son, the ex­pan­sion fee for Ot­tawa and Tampa Bay in late 1990 was $ 50 mil­lion for each fran­chise. The teams started play in the 1992- 93 sea­son, giv­ing the NHL 24 teams. The ex­pan­sion fee climbed to $ 80 mil­lion for Min­nesota and Colum­bus by 2000. The Sen­a­tors and the Light­ning were granted ex­pan­sion fran­chises be­fore Bettman be­came com­mis­sioner.

Un­til re­cently, Bettman has stayed on mes­sage about pos­si­ble ex­pan­sion. But the Las Ve­gas bid moved the nee­dle, and now Bettman said the league is go­ing to take a “deep dive” in start­ing the ap­pli­ca­tion process.

“The fact we are go­ing through this process doesn’t mean we are go­ing to ex­pand,” Bettman said. “All it means is we’re go­ing to stop just lis­ten­ing to ex­pres­sions of in­ter­est and take a good, hard look at what they ac­tu­ally mean and rep­re­sent.”

Val­u­a­tions have sky­rock­eted in pro­fes­sional sports. Chicago- based sports busi­ness con­sul­tant Marc Ga­nis, pres­i­dent of SportsCorp, said that it ap­pears to be the right time for Las Ve­gas and the NHL.

“I ac­tu­ally think it’s even be­yond time,” he said. “Even ig­nor­ing the visi­tors that come in [ to Las Ve­gas], the mar­ket it­self is strong enough to sup­port a pro­fes­sional sports team.

“It has very high ca­ble pen­e­tra­tion, a mean­ing­ful pop­u­la­tion with sig­nif­i­cant dis­pos­able in­come. It has quite a num­ber of com­pa­nies that could use sports as an en­ter­tain­ment ve­hi­cle.”

The Las Ve­gas sea­sonticket drive has im­pressed the NHL’s own­ers and AEG/ MGM is build­ing a $ 375- mil­lion arena on the Strip — due to be com­pleted in the spring of 2016.

The new arena, near the New York- New York and Monte Carlo casi­nos, will have state- of- the- art fea­tures, in­clud­ing lux­ury loge boxes. And the view from the top row was im­pres­sive on a walk- through Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

The arena will give Fo­ley and his group a sig­nif­i­cant ad­van­tage over ri­val groups with iffy build­ing plans.

“There seems to be a num­ber of peo­ple who are ex­press­ing in­ter­est,” Bettman said. “I would say in Seat­tle’s case, the arena sit­u­a­tion still seems to have some un­cer­tainty. But per­haps the process will bring some cer­tainty to the arena sit­u­a­tion. No­body has the arena act to­gether yet in Seat­tle.”

Said Ga­nis: “For the NHL, it is ab­so­lutely worth tak­ing the chance [ with Las Ve­gas]. Less so, per­haps, with the other leagues.”

Would the NHL’s pres­ence in Las Ve­gas pave the way for other sports leagues? That seems doubt­ful. The NBA has con­sis­tently said it has no plans for ex­pan­sion or fran­chise re­lo­ca­tion.

NFL Com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell said at the Su­per Bowl: “I cer­tainly can’t speak even to the NFL be­cause I haven’t had any di­a­logue with of­fi­cials in Las Ve­gas about how that could hap­pen suc­cess­fully for Las Ve­gas and for the NFL. A sta­dium would be a big com­po­nent to that. I’m not sure that ex­ists right now.”

Glen Gu­lutzan, Van­cou­ver Canucks as­sis­tant coach and for­mer Dal­las Stars coach, was the head coach and gen­eral man­ager of the Las Ve­gas Wran­glers of the ECHL from 2003 to 2009.

He re­calls the Wran­glers’ cre­ative pro­mo­tions, like those seen in the mi­nor leagues but built for Las Ve­gas. Some ex­per­i­ments worked bet­ter than oth­ers. There was a game start­ing at mid­night. Then there was a fan give­away night mak­ing ref­er­ence to Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney’s hunt­ing ac­ci­dent.

“We did the hunt­ing vest night. We did a lot of things there,” Gu­lutzan said.

Gu­lutzan thought it might be help­ful for the prospec­tive team if the NHL was the only pro­fes­sional league in Las Ve­gas. Two of his chil­dren were born in Las Ve­gas and he praised the en­thu­si­as­tic hockey com­mu­nity in the area.

“It could be a tie that binds, if the own­er­ship group get their feet en­trenched in the com­mu­nity,” he said by tele­phone from Van­cou­ver. “The one thing that Las Ve­gas didn’t have was an iden­tity that some­one — whether you lived in Hen­der­son or North Ve­gas — could iden­tify that was truly Las Ve­gas.

“I think they have a chance to do so. Maybe hockey can come here and be the one thing that de­fines them.”

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