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Alan Snel

Las Vegas NHL boosters kick off official ticket drive

11 February 2015

LAS VEGAS -- Las Vegas's push for a National Hockey League franchise officially took off Tuesday afternoon when lead investor Bill Foley launched a ticket deposit drive with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman endorsing Foley's campaign to measure the market’s interest.

The Florida billionaire has for weeks talked about Las Vegas fans catching NHL fever and plunking down a minimum of $150 for a season ticket deposit to show Bettman and the NHL Board of Governors that Las Vegas can play hockey in the majors.

Starting at 1:30 p.m., fans began logging onto to make a ticket deposit of $150 to $900, depending on the seats. The website also included an arena seat chart.

Foley and his partners — the Maloof brothers of Las Vegas — hope at least 10,000 Las Vegas-area hockey fans will sign up. Foley, chairman of Fidelity National Financial, Inc., a mortgage and financial services company based in Jacksonville, Fla., said a minimum of 10,000 deposits are necessary for the NHL to consider awarding a franchise to Las Vegas.

Bettman's appearance at the press conference at the MGM Grand Las Vegas shows the proposal has legs. Bettman gave Foley the go-ahead to start the ticket deposit campaign in December, ahead of any expansion in the Las Vegas market.

Bettman said he green-lighted Foley’s ticket drive because of the new $375 million arena being built by the MGM Resorts International-The Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) on the Strip and because of Foley's robust business resume, which includes his mortgage company, 14 wineries and real estate development in Montana.

The MGM-AEG arena is a catalyst for the NHL bid, with Foley saying that he has already struck a lease agreement with the venue's owners. The arena holds about 17,500 fans for hockey.

One of those fans could be Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who gave Foley a $1,000 personal check for two seat deposits during the launch event at the MGM Grand.

“Today, we're talking about community pride,” Sisolak said.

Bettman said there are no promises that Las Vegas will be awarded a franchise, but he called the market "unique," and praised Foley's background.

Asked what specifically intrigued him about Las Vegas, Bettman referred to "business engines, tourists and good jobs."

He said no NHL teams are moving to Las Vegas and the expansion process has not started. The Board of Governors, the NHL's ruling body, would have to approve Las Vegas by at least a 75 percent vote — if it gets to that stage, Bettman said

Foley said he would be "shocked" if his group sells at least 10,000 ticket deposits but doesn't draw a new franchise — a comment that prompted Bettman to say that he had a few private words with the 69-year-old West Point graduate.

"What you're hearing is Bill's enthusiasm," Bettman said.

Other cities competing for an NHL team are Seattle and Quebec City in Canada, which lost the Nordiques to Denver about two decdes ago.

Las Vegas has always been a strong sports event town, hosting major-league events such as NASCAR races, PGA tournaments, Ultimate Fighting Championship, major boxing matches and the National Finals Rodeo.

Now, Foley's ticket campaign will be a litmus test of Las Vegas's ability to graduate from a town where individual events do well to a market that can support a major-league home team playing more than 40 homes games a season. A development group is trying to bring a Major League Soccer team to Las Vegas, which is vying with Sacramento and Minneapolis for the big-league soccer franchise.

But the MLS deal involves more than $50 million in public dollars from the city of Las Vegas — a contrast to the privately funded initiative by Foley-Maloof.

The NHL ticket drive has created a buzz, but some fans have complained that they would like to make deposits for partial season ticket plans — not full season deals. The Foley-Maloof group said partial deals will eventually be available, suggesting fans pool their money for a season ticket deposit and split the games.

If the NHL does not award a franchise to Foley-Maloof, fans will receive full deposit refunds. The ownership group will keep the money if the league grants a team to the ownership group and Las Vegas.

MGM Resorts and AEG officials also attended the Foley-Maloof NHL press event, pledging their support for the initiative.

Foley has said he will have a two-thirds ownership stake and be the managing partner, while Gavin and Joe Maloof are minority partners and are serving as the ticket drive's marketing arm. Foley is spending $1.5 million for multi-media ads, a ticket sales office and public relations and digital social median consultants.

At 5 p.m., Foley-Maloof played host to a gathering of the Las Vegas Founding 75 — a group of local business leaders each asked to convince 60 fans to pay for a deposit. Each was given a Las Vegas hockey sweater jersey with the number 75 and his name on the back.

Bettman said he is as curious as Foley is to see how the Las Vegas market responds to the ticket deposit drive.

"We're listening (to the Foley-Maloof group)," Bettman said. "Let's see what happens over the next few weeks."
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