When the NHL realigned in 2012, it left the conferences unbalanced with 16 teams in the East and only 14 in the West. Experts assumed that expansion was the next logical solution to balance the conferences and needing two western teams, Seattle emerged as a likely destination.
Seattle is a natural target for expansion as they already have multiple Western Hockey League teams in the area. The only competition for interest during the winter is the National Football League’s Seahawks, though they are done their season by February and only play on Sundays.
There are already plans for a new arena in Seattle and the city’s hockey fans would love to be able to avoid the cross border travel to catch an NHL game in Vancouver. The most enticing thought for a Seattle hockey team is the cross border rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks.
Expansion talk really heated up last week when Las Vegas rose as a possible expansion target.
It has long been discussed whether Las Vegas could support a professional sports team. No one can deny that Sin City is definitely one of the biggest tourist destinations in the United States, but should a professional sports team be tossed in on the strip in between the MGM Grand and the Bellagio? A hockey team in Nevada may sound like a crazy idea, but is it really?
When the NHL expanded south to markets like San Jose, Anaheim, Tampa Bay, Miami and Nashville, most thought that was a doomed venture. But 20 years later and “non-traditional” hockey markets like California are now not just supporting teams but also pumping out talent. Some markets failed — such as Atlanta, Phoenix and Miami — but that is the price you pay to build new fans; not every shot ends up in the back of the net.
Las Vegas may be the next Atlanta but it could also be the next San Jose. If Las Vegas fails then the NHL will deal with it — but it can’t hurt to try.
At first glance, Las Vegas is a sports owner’s nightmare, having to compete with the gambling industry and the other forms of entertainment to get people in the seats to watch your product on the ice. If the NHL is willing to work with the casinos of Las Vegas, filling an arena may not be a worry at all.
There are 30 casinos along the Las Vegas strip, most having hotels — and one thing that plenty of hotels do is offer packages to make the stay more enticing. Hotels could purchase rows of season tickets and offer them as part of packaged deals to tourists to help get to a season ticket quota.
Regardless of what fans initially think, expansion is something owners love as it stuffs their pockets with expansion fee money. Las Vegas and Seattle while not the most traditional hockey markets both have a reasonable chance of success in the NHL and if given the chance, will succeed.
Graphic: Stephanie Mah/Graphics Editor