Golden Knights Lead Las Vegas in Becoming a Sports Town

NHL Expansion, Vegas Golden Knights

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Las Vegas is one of the biggest vacation spots in the United States. Known for gambling, nightlife, and dining, the city attracts millions of tourists each year. They are also a hotbed for entertainment: concerts, shows, and much more. Within the last two years, this scene has started to change because when the NHL expanded into Las Vegas, it gave the city their first professional team in the four major sporting leagues.

If you thought people would not be interested in ice hockey in the middle of the desert, think again. The team had sold 16,000 season tickets a year before they even stepped onto the ice and during their first two seasons have averaged over 18,000 fans per game in the brand new T-Mobile Arena.

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Grand opening of the T Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, April 6, 2016 (THW Archives)

Tragedy Strikes

Just nine days before the Golden Knights’ first home game, an unforgettable incident happened at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. It was the deadliest mass shooting in US history, taking 58 lives.

All of the Golden Knights players and staff would go into the community and help in any way possible. Showing up to blood drives, hospitals, anything to show their support for the community and brighten someone’s day. This built up the relationship between the new franchise and the community, making the Golden Knights the symbol of the city.

When their inaugural home game happened, team owner Bill Foley switched up the pre-game ceremonies to honor all of the first responders and victims of that horrendous night. Vegas retired the number 58 to remember everyone who lost their life. Alternate Captain and fan favorite, Deryk Engelland, said a few words and that is when the residents of Las Vegas really took a lot of pride in their NHL franchise.

Nobody expected the Golden Knights to make much noise in their first season. This was a team of guys who were not kept by their previous teams. In fact, most of them were shipped to Vegas to protect other assets their former teams did not want to lose. But this group came together, rallied around each other, and when the city needed a distraction, they took to the ice and became the most successful expansion team in league history.

Winning Builds Fans

With any new franchise, there is always buzz around that team for the first few seasons. It is something new and people love all new trends. The way the community bonded after the Route 91 Harvest Festival added another dimension to the city falling in love with this team, but the biggest factor into why the Golden Knights are so popular in Vegas is because they are winning.

Vegas not only broke every NHL expansion record, but made history across the four major sports as being the best expansion team ever. They are the only expansion squad to have a winning record in their first season (they not only had a winning record, they won their division with a 51-24-7 record).

Alex Tuch, Reilly Smith and Reid Duke
Alex Tuch #89, Reilly Smith #19 and Reid Duke #37 of the Vegas Golden Knights at the Fremont Street Experience on January 14, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The team experienced playoff success as well. They breezed through the first three rounds as they posted a 12-3 record, defeating the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, and Winnipeg Jets. The team made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, but the clock struck midnight a little early and the organization lost to the Washington Capitals in five games.

Although it was not the outcome that the city wanted, it built the town up and created many new fans. The buzz going into their second season was even louder than their first and team management wanted to put together a better squad on the ice. They signed big time free agents and traded for superstars which led to their second straight postseason appearance.

The Golden Knights were bounced in the first round by their rival from Northern California, the San Jose Sharks. It was a controversial game and Vegas came out on the wrong side of the decision, but this will only fuel them into being better for their third “times a charm” season.

Other Leagues Following

With the success of the Golden Knights, it brought about new opportunities for other sporting leagues.

Las Vegas has had a Triple-A baseball team for over 30 years, but they played in an old, rundown soccer facility in downtown. In 2019, the organization opened a brand new stadium and baseball continues to grow in the desert.

It was announced in 2017 that the National Football League Oakland Raiders would be moving to Las Vegas in 2020. The team will play in a brand new stadium and it will surely be a destination that NFL fans will want to visit. The NFL is considered the most popular sport in the US and with the amount of success the NHL is having there, Raiders owner Mark Davis will try and capitalize on this untapped market.

george mcphee
Las Vegas could soon be the home to an NFL franchise. (Wikipedia)

Another major league sport could be expanding into the Mojave Desert, as it has been reported that Foley wants to bring a Major League Soccer team to Las Vegas. The team would play out of the brand new Las Vegas Stadium, home of the aforementioned Raiders, or build a new stadium in the heart of downtown. Soccer is considered the most popular sport in the world and with the continued growth of the MLS, Foley will be as prepared as he was when he put together the foundation for his Golden Knights.

There was always hesitation with putting a professional sports league in Las Vegas because of all the lights and temptations, but someone had to make that gamble. Bill Foley did and he should be credited with the success all of these sports organizations are enjoying. He has shifted Las Vegas from “Sin City” to “Win City.”

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