New GM George McPhee and New Team Owner, Bill Foley
George McPhee has been named general manager of the new Las Vegas hockey team which will play at T-Mobile Arena. McPhee spent 17 years as general manager for the Washington Capitals where he was responsible for all decisions for hockey operations.
McPhee’s appointment is the first in a series of decisions the new team has to make to get up to speed for their 2017 debut. Next in line is sure to be a name for the new franchise. Team owner, billionaire businessman Bill Foley, chairman of Fidelity National Financial, has said his preference is Las Vegas Black Knights. The National Hockey League (NHL) has not weighed in yet on Foley’s name pick.
“I am very excited to announce that George will be the general manager of our franchise,” said Foley. “George is well respected around the league. He is a leader who knows every aspect of the game, both as a player and as a hockey operations executive, having been the GM for 17 years with the Capitals, a well-managed and successful franchise. It was important to me that our General Manager be someone that I know I can work well with and someone who is as committed to building a winning franchise for the people of Las Vegas.”
The NHL is betting that Las Vegas finally has the traction to have a professional sports franchise. On June 22, 2016, the NHL board of directors granted a proposal to place the league’s 31st team in Las Vegas. The gambling mecca turned tourist destination, does not yet have a single professional sports team. NHL is the first sports league to grant a team to the city. Las Vegas has been trying for many years to lure a professional team its way.
Foley and NHL Commissioner Bettman
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, along with new hockey team owner, made the announcement along with Foley. The Maloof brothers, former owners of the Sacramento Kings and Las Vegas’ Palms Casino Resort, will own a minority stake in the team.
NHL has not granted a request for a new team in more than 15 years. The league was reluctant to introduce a new team in an untested market like Las Vegas, which up until now has never met the requirements to have a professional sports team franchise, but relented after Foley and the Maloofs proved the city was ready to support a franchise expansion by generating more than 14,000 deposits for season tickets from local hockey fans.
Foley said during the announcement that he expects 85 to 90 percent of the crowds to be season-ticket holders. “This is Las Vegas' team,” Foley said. “We have 2.2 or 2.3 million local residents and we sold 14,000 season tickets with season-ticket deposits when we didn't have a team and we didn't have an arena. That is the kind of level of dedication that the people of Las Vegas have shown in support of NHL hockey. It went a long way for us to making progress with the NHL. Las Vegas is hockey-ready. We're convinced of it. We know it.”
The team’s 40 regular season home games will be played at T-Mobile Arena. Tickets will run $20-$220; the luxury suites are all already sold out. The season tickets and suites are available for anywhere from one to 10 years. Frank Brown, spokesman for the NHL, said that T-Mobile Arena “was designed and built primarily for hockey.”
Scott Ghertner, director of public relations, MGM Resorts International, which runs the T-Mobile Arena, said, “We are excited to be a partner of 'Vegas is Hockey' organization and believe it will be a success as the city begins to welcome NHL fans from around the world. T-Mobile Arena was designed to meet the specific requirements for a professional hockey team and we look forward to seeing a nice mix of Las Vegas visitors as well as locals.”
“T-Mobile Arena gives Las Vegas the ability to host world class hockey events such as the NCAA Frozen Four, World Cup of Hockey and NHL All-Star game,” said Pat Christenson, president, Las Vegas Events. “I am optimistic about the success of our NHL franchise. They have already secured almost 15,000 season tickets and have a lease with a new state-of-the-art arena, with an iconic location.”
The team owners that make up the NHL will realize a $500 million expansion fee, which is six times more than the $80 million paid to the league in the last round of expansion when the Minnesota Wild, who play at Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, and Columbus (Ohio) Blue Jackets, who play at Nationwide Arena, joined the ranks in 2000. Each team will pull in around $16.7 million for allowing the new Las Vegas team into the league. Starting next year, the new Las Vegas team will be entitled to a share of the NHL national revenue. The NHL is expected to make $4 billion in 2016, up from the $3.7 billion it posted in 2015. It projects adding another $500 million in 2017, generating $4.5 billion in the 2017-2018 season.
“There was no public funding for the arena, so there is no negative hangover from the community,” said Christenson. “Ownership’s connection with the community is such a critical piece of a successful sports franchise. Bill Foley has clearly demonstrated his commitment to the community with the relocation of his company and the construction of a hockey practice facility.”
Foley and The Maloof brothers said in a statement, “Our goal has been realized and Las Vegas has shown that we are ready — ready for the energy, excitement and thrill that only NHL hockey can deliver. We've done the research, polled the community and rallied our local businesses. All are eager to support an NHL team. Las Vegas is proud to have joined the elite list of NHL cities.”
NHL Commissioner Bettman said in an interview, “The arrival of the first major professional sports team in the vibrant growing global destination city that is Las Vegas is a tremendously exciting opportunity, not just for Las Vegas but for the league as well. This expansion comes at a time when our game is more competitive than ever, ownership is stronger than ever, the player base is more talented than ever, and the business and the future opportunities for the business are greater than ever. We think the franchise will be in great shape with Bill Foley as the owner. I applaud his passion for hockey, and for hockey in Las Vegas. I appreciate his persistence and his patience in pursuit of the franchise. Bill worked hard for this moment. He didn't put so much time, effort and money into this project without a determination to make it successful.”
Interviewed for this story: Frank Brown, (212) 789-2000; Scott Ghertner, (702) 692-6750; Pat Christenson, (702) 260-9032