Bill Foley might have struck gold in Las Vegas.
Foley has claimed the Golden Knights project to rank among the NHL’s top “five, six or seven” teams in ticket sales during their inaugural 2017-18 season, ahead of storied franchises like the Bruins, Flyers and two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins.
“Edmonton has more revenue in their brand-new arena,” Foley said. “The Rangers, Toronto, Chicago Blackhawks, they’re all ahead of us. Montreal is right with us.
“We have more revenue than the Flyers, Penguins, the Boston Bruins. Most of our tickets are multiyear. The lower bowl is three to 10 years.”
Foley insisted the Knights have “sold 13,500 of the 17,000 seats” for regular-season games at T-Mobile Arena.
For perspective, the Penguins have a sellout streak of 484 consecutive games at PPG Paints Arena and were the NHL’s 11th-most profitable franchise in 2016 according to Forbes’ most recent valuation. Forbes estimated the Penguins took in $85 million in gate receipts for the 2015-16 season.
In September 2016, Vegas announced it had received deposits on all 16,000 season tickets. The team’s goal was 10,000 deposits, set in February 2015. Foley also told Forbes all of the suites have been sold for this season.
Pro hockey is returning to Las Vegas for the first time since 2014 when the ECHL’s Wranglers ceased operations.
That’s an impressive feat for a team that’s got a lot of skeptics because of its geographic location. Vegas, a city known far more for casinos and nightlife than hockey, has never had a major sports franchise and the NHL is far from the most popular league in America.
But with Vegas having the hype of an expansion draft franchise, which usually leads to extra attention in the first few years, the Golden Knights are trying to set the stage to be successful. Part of that is higher-than-average ticket prices, as Foley says Vegas’ average ticket is $88, whereas the league-wide average is in the low $70s.
Whether fans will continue to be willing to pay that price in the future will likely depend on whether the Golden Knights can become a winner. GM George McPhee clearly took a long-term view with his moves this offseason, building a team that should be respectable but won’t be anywhere near a contender out of the gate.