The NHL is ready to roll the dice on Las Vegas.
A person with direct knowledge of the NHL’s decision says the league has settled on Las Vegas as its choice for expansion, provided organizers can come up with a $500 million fee.
The person spoke Tuesday on condition of anonymity because details have not been released by the league ahead of its Board of Governors meeting on June 22 in Las Vegas. Quebec City was also considered for expansion.
A second person who had been briefed on the decision said Las Vegas was a “done deal” following the recommendation of the NHL’s executive committee.
The 2017-18 season would be the earliest the league would expand.
The franchise would be the NHL’s 31st team and the first major professional sports franchise in Las Vegas, the rapidly growing gambling center of the American West.
The NHL hasn’t expanded since 2000, when Minnesota and Columbus paid $80 million each to join the league. Prospective Vegas owner Bill Foley is a wealthy businessman who isn’t likely to blink at the elevated price tag previously proposed by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman as an expansion fee.
The Las Vegas bid says it has secured more than 13,200 season-ticket deposits for the new team, which will play in T-Mobile Arena, the sparkling new multipurpose building on the south end of the Las Vegas Strip. The arena, which seats 17,500 for hockey, was built entirely with private money by MGM Resorts International and Anschutz Entertainment Group, the owners of the Los Angeles Kings.
The Las Vegas area had nearly 2.2 million people in the 2010 census, making it the largest population center in the U.S. without a major pro sports franchise. Public support for Foley’s bid has been robust, and the NHL has noticed the appeal of being the only big sports show in a town that loves a big event.
Quebec City still has a strong bid for expansion, but owners have expressed concerns about the strength of the Canadian dollar and a geographical imbalance if they add another team to the Eastern Conference, which currently has 16 teams to the West’s 14.