Kukla's Korner Hockey

Kukla's Korner Hockey

Gary Bettman attends opener of Las Vegas season ticket drive

02/10/2015 at 9:56pm EST

On Tuesday, something a little puzzling happened: the NHL's commissioner visited a season ticket drive for a franchise that does not exist--not yet, anyway--while insisting that he's not necessarily supporting Bill Foley and the Maloof family's Las Vegas expansion plans. ESPN's Scott Burnside noted the strangeness of the situation:

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who attended a news conference at the MGM Grand Casino to kick off the drive, insisted that the NHL hasn't made any commitment to anyone regarding becoming the first major professional sports league to venture into the gambling and tourist mecca.

"We're not in the expansion process and I need to keep making that clear,'' Bettman said.

Still, the optics of Bettman's presence for many observers were more powerful than words and seemed to indicate the NHL was in fact ready to make the expansion plunge provided the ticket drive is as successful, as a number of sources expect it to be.

Even before potential owners Bill Foley and the Las Vegas-based Maloof family started taking deposits on season tickets from interested fans on Tuesday afternoon, sources told ESPN.com that more than 9,000 individuals had reached out to organizers to express interest in paying to watch NHL hockey in Las Vegas.

Continued, and this is the important part:

Bettman told ESPN.com that Foley and his group have committed a lot of time and money (close to $2 million, a source told ESPN.com) and that Foley had invited him to attend the media event to see the level of enthusiasm and support for hockey in the city.

"I figured why not go out and see what he's got?" Bettman said shortly before boarding a flight back to New York.

"The event was well done," he added. "There was a big turnout and a high level of enthusiasm."

Edit: The Las Vegas Review-Journal's Alan Snel also provides the Nevadan perspective:

Las Vegas has always been a strong sports event town, hosting major-league events such as NASCAR races, PGA tournaments, Ultimate Fighting Championship, major boxing matches and the National Finals Rodeo.

Now, Foley’s ticket campaign will be a litmus test of Las Vegas’ ability to graduate from a town where individual events do well to a market that can support a major-league home team playing more than 40 homes games a season. A development group is trying to bring a Major League Soccer team to Las Vegas, which is vying with Sacramento and Minneapolis for the big-league soccer franchise.

But the MLS deal involves more than $50 million in public dollars from the city of Las Vegas — a contrast to the privately-funded initiative by Foley-Maloof.

The NHL ticket drive has created a buzz, but some fans have complained that they would like to make deposits for partial season ticket plans — not full season deals. The Foley-Maloof group said partial deals will eventually be available, suggesting fans pool their money for a season ticket deposit and split the games.

If the NHL does not award a franchise to Foley-Maloof, fans will receive full deposit refunds. The ownership group will keep the money if the league grants a team to the ownership group and Las Vegas.

MGM Resorts and AEG officials also attended the Foley-Maloof NHL press event, pledging their support for the initiative.

Foley has said he will have a two-thirds ownership stake and be the managing partner, while Gavin and Joe Maloof are minority partners and are serving as the ticket drive’s marketing arm. Foley is spending $1.5 million for multi-media ads, a ticket sales office and public relations and digital social median consultants.

At 5 p.m., Foley-Maloof played host to a gathering of the Las Vegas Founding 75 — a group of local business leaders each asked to convince 60 fans to pay for a deposit. Each was given a Las Vegas hockey sweater jersey with the number 75 and his name on the back.

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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