The odds on NHL expansion to Las Vegas may have gotten a little better today.
“What I'm about to tell you requires a deep breath and a level of precision that I am requesting because I don't want it misunderstood,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, at the League’s Board of Governors meeting in Boca Raton, Fla. on Monday.
There wasn’t a vote. There wasn’t a formal approval of expansion. But the mutual interest is so intense that the League agreed to allow a potential owner to begin a season-ticket drive to show there’s interest in the market to sustain a franchise.
(Yes, an NHL-approved season-ticket drive; no Hamilton Predators nonsense this time.)
“Las Vegas is a unique market and both we, owners and the potential expansion team owner, Bill Foley, had some questions that he would like to answer. Bill asked me last week ... what would be our reaction to them conducting a season-ticket drive to measure the level of interest?” said Bettman. “And so that if there is interest there, he will continue to pursue that interest; and if it turns out that there isn't interest there, then he would stop his efforts and stop using valuable time and money in pursuit of a team if it didn't make sense.”
So here we go.
Foley is chairman of mortgage giant Fidelity National Financial and owns over a dozen wineries. He was revealed as the potential owner selected by the NHL to spearhead an effort to bring a team to Vegas.
Bettman said there isn’t a structure for a season-ticket drive yet and that hitting whatever goals are established won’t mandate the NHL will expand there.
“The sole purpose here would be to give, in this unique circumstance, Mr. Foley and his colleagues an opportunity to measure the level of interest in the market by conducting a season-ticket drive, and that's something that I intend to tell him that we have no objection to him doing as long as we understand the parameters of it," he said.
Bettman reiterated several times that Vegas is a “unique market,” and that’s why this high-profile test of that market’s strength is important in assessing it.
But the bottom line for those eager to see the NHL in Sin City: There’s an owner identified by the League, and he has the green light to begin testing the market’s season-ticket base.
It’s like drawing a face card on the first deal in blackjack: There’s no telling what’s coming next, but it’s a good start.
With reporting by Nick Cotsonika in Boca Raton.