Nate Silver took time away from predicting who wins Montana’s House District 37 with frighteningly accuracy to trash the NHL’s expansion potential in Las Vegas.
He says the idea makes “little sense” and lays out several reasons for this conclusion; and while there’s no question Silver’s protests are valid (and, frankly, well-trodden), some of them are a little specious.
Our 2013 analysis estimated that there are just 91,000 NHL fans in metro Las Vegas. That’s tiny even by comparison to the six smallest NHL markets that I mentioned before, which have between 146,000 (Nashville) and 279,000 (Tampa) hockey fans. And it’s well below Seattle’s 241,000 or Quebec City’s 530,000 fans.
Please recall the patently absurd methodology Silver used to arrive at those numbers: Taking the metro population for each city, and then using how many people searched the term “NHL” on Google to extrapolate the “NHL fan population.”
Which means that the fan population is determined by (a) how many people use a given product to locate things on the Internet and (b) how many people search for the league rather than a specific team or player, which is what an active fan would do (think of your own fan behavior) and (c) completely ignores social reach and regional traffic to NHL.com, for example.
(Also, based on the last 12 months, the NHL should expand to Wisconsin.)
But here’s another reason to be skeptical about Las Vegas: The city has had several professional sports franchises (albeit none from the four or five largest North American sports leagues), and it hasn’t supported them very well.
That’s a hell of a parenthetical caveat.
The difference in fan engagement for a minor league team and a major league team in the U.S. strains the credibility of the thesis. Especially when dealing with Las Vegas, which we all know is going to rely on tourism to help fill seats: What does an ECHL’s team attendance have to do with an NHL’s potential in an arena on the Strip?
It’s asking a lot for Las Vegas to support a major league team when it’s struggled to support pretty much every minor league team that’s tried to play there. If the city has some positives, it also has some negatives, like irregular working hours, middling public transit and abundant competition for the entertainment dollar, which may depress sports attendance.
All super completely valid, and the things the NHL and Bill Foley are going to have to convince the Board of Governors aren’t death knells for Vegas expansion.
Silver believes the NBA would be a success with a Vegas expansion team, partially because the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels drew so many students whose attendance at games was as much a social engagement as it was a passion for basketball … I mean, “fans.”
Where would Silver like to see NHL team movement? Why, away from the U.S. and more into Canada!
There ought to be more NHL teams in Canada, which has only seven of the 30 NHL franchises despite having about as many hockey fans as the United States. And there perhaps ought to be fewer in midsize American markets, especially those far from the Canadian border.
If only the good people of Tampa Bay spent less time filling their building to 98-percent capacity and searched “NHL” more on Google.
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