As Golden Knights Soar, Las Vegas Stakes Its Claim as a Sports Town

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It’s fair to say the owners of the Golden Knights, the N.H.L. and the city of Las Vegas did not expect that, either. By most measures, the hockey team’s inaugural season has been a smashing success — one the Raiders hope to duplicate when they move to the city from Oakland for the 2020 N.F.L. season.

With 41 wins and 87 points through Monday, the Golden Knights have been extending the record for most wins by an N.H.L. expansion team week after week. In first place in the Western Conference, they are the second-highest scoring team in the league and look poised for a playoff run.

A big reason for the Golden Knights’ success is their play at T-Mobile Arena, where they are 24-5-2. Through the first 31 home games, the team averaged 17,969 fans, or 103.5 percent of the arena’s capacity, when including standing room tickets. All 44 luxury suites have been rented. The team sold its entire allotment of 12,500 season tickets, and Kerry Bubolz, the team president, told this month that about 2,500 fans had paid deposits to be part of the season-ticket waiting list.


Oscar Lindberg and the Golden Knights have the best record in the Western Conference and set a record for most wins by an N.H.L. expansion team.

L.E. Baskow/Associated Press

According to Fanatics, the largest online seller of licensed sports goods, the Golden Knights have ranked fourth in N.H.L. merchandise sales this season — and first since the start of 2018.

The fast start by the Golden Knights has, for now, allayed fears that the N.H.L.’s decision to put another team in a desert city would lead to financial trouble. (See: Coyotes, Arizona.) Commissioner Gary Bettman has for years pushed for new teams in the Sun Belt, with mixed success, and aiming for Las Vegas, in particular, seemed like an overreach.

It is the country’s 40th largest television market, best known as a destination for tourists and gamblers, and has a population heavy on retirees and service industry workers, who are unlikely candidates to spend thousands of dollars on season tickets. The city had little hockey tradition; it has hosted minor league teams but has few ice rinks or youth leagues.

But an influx of out-of-town fans has complemented the Golden Knights’ fast start on the ice and at the box office. This is good news for local hotels, restaurants and casinos, which host 43 million visitors a year, and for the team as it gets its bearings in the market.

Other N.H.L. teams in areas that attract transplanted retirees — like the Arizona Coyotes and the Florida Panthers — also tend to have strong crowds supporting the opposition. The Golden Knights, though, appear to have specifically designed their game nights like most things in their city: as tourist attractions.

While hockey is certainly the central focus of game nights, the Knights have added a medieval motif, sometimes comically. The Zambonis that drive on the ice have jousts mounted on their sides to simulate a duel. The arena includes a 24-foot knight’s helmet and three castle structures, including one for cheerleaders with pompoms. Catapults are used to launch T-shirts into the crowd.

“We wanted to focus on Vegas as the entertainment capital of the world,” Bubolz said.

The Golden Knights’ success, camp and all, is an encouraging sign for the N.F.L., which last year approved the Raiders’ plan to relocate to Nevada. (The San Antonio Stars of the W.N.B.A. moved to Las Vegas in the off-season, and will begin play as the Las Vegas Aces in May.)

But the definition of success will be far different. While the Knights play in a privately built arena, Nevada promised to use $750 million in hotel taxes to help pay for a new, domed stadium for the Raiders. The bonanza of public money persuaded the league’s owners to let the team move, and melted the N.F.L.’s long-running objections to playing in Las Vegas — based on the presence of legal sports gambling.


The fast start by the Golden Knights has, for now, allayed fears that the N.H.L.’s decision to put another team in a desert city would lead to financial ruin.

Isaac Brekken for The New York Times

The Raiders hope to double down on the Knights’ success at drawing out-of-town visitors. In most N.F.L. markets, roughly 5 percent of fans at a typical game are from out of town. Yet according to the Raiders’ projections, about half the fans at the 10 Raiders home games will come from outside Las Vegas, including many from neighboring California.

“As far back as a decade, we all believed teams would travel very well to Las Vegas,” said Bill Hornbuckle, the president of MGM Resorts International and a member of the Las Vegas Stadium Authority, which has negotiated specifics of the stadium deal with the Raiders.

Sporting events in Las Vegas, he added, “make what is normally a three-hour experience into a three-day experience.”

Hornbuckle said that of the 48,000 fans who had paid a deposit for personal seat licenses, which will probably cost between $4,000 and $6,000, 48 percent were from Southern Nevada. But nearly 30 percent were from Southern California, and the remainder from elsewhere in the country.

But while the Golden Knights moved into a pre-existing arena, the Raiders are responsible for construction of their stadium. The team, though, will have to cover only about one-third of the estimated $1.8 billion price tag. The rest will come from the hotel tax, an N.F.L. contribution of $200 million and an estimated $250 million from the fans’ seat license fees.

The Raiders will…

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