Star-studded hockey team, aggressive owner, cut-throat management, and a rabid fan base; professional sports needs a team like VGK.
Go with me on this. Salt Lake, Utah, has a new NFL expansion franchise. They get ready to draft their first players; aside from the collegiate draft, they pick up a released quarterback from another team who is a 13-year veteran. Some good players who were cut by other teams, contracts not renegotiated, players like that. No superstars. Until now.
They have an owner that practically says, screw it, let’s win now. Money is no object. Of course, there is a salary cap to deal with but he seems to like that Jerry Jones type. The folks of Salt Lake, Utah embrace them similar to the fans in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and New Orleans, Louisiana. The Salt Lake Pioneers (the best nickname I could make up) win 70% of their games.
Then the unthinkable happened, they play the Tampa Buccaneers with a quarterback with the last name of Ovechkin in the Super Bowl. That’s right. The Salt Lake Pioneers go to the Super Bowl as an expansion team in their very first year.
Sound crazy? Sure, it does. Things like that do happen. Just not to expansion teams. But it did happen to a team in the middle of nowhere. A desert town where the next big city is 4 hours away. Nothing to see or nowhere to stop in between except bathrooms.
It is all happening to the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights
In 2017, a rink full of self-named hockey players (not called the Pioneers) in the middle of the Nevada desert, called themselves the misfits. Players that were not wanted, put on the drafting block for the new expansion team. An organization that was mocked before they even had their players and a coach. Hockey in the desert will never work. Vegas people don’t know hockey. It’s 110 degrees outside, and the rink will melt (both actually happened).
Just like the mythical Pioneers, the Vegas Golden Knight goes to the Stanley Cup. A trophy with a biblical aura around it. Even the Lombardi Trophy is secondary when it comes to professional sports trophies.
A professional sports team that plays on ice in the middle of the desert. The Vegas Golden Knights are changing the NHL forever, and the NHL, rather they like it or not, are the only professional sport that needs this team.
Vegas is on a global trajectory of interest that could match the New York Yankees or the Dallas Cowboys over time. Of course, winning and championships make all that happen, but the Golden Knights are getting there and have never missed the playoffs. They are now playing for the Western Conference championship for the third time in four years.
Golden Knights owner Bill Foley has made seemingly every right move to put the once expansion team to now be the most feared hockey club the last three years. He and his General Manager, Kelly McCrimmon, and President of Hockey Operations has made unfavorable moves amongst the crazy fan base, but it is all in the name of winning. Exactly what the NHL needs in the biggest tourism market on the planet.
They fired the one and only coach in the modern history of organized professional sports
A coach that led an expansion team to play for a world title in Gerard Gallant. The same guy that was fired while VGK was right in the middle of winning the western conference again. After a game, Gallant was shown a cab to the airport to catch another flight home.
Sound familiar? Bill Foley might be the new George Steinbrenner, Jerry Jones, or Jerry Buss. He is the quietest yet most polarizing owner the NHL has ever had when it comes to winning now with a new team.
Foley has challenged the Vegas faithful to hate him. The firing of Gallant and then hiring the arch-enemy of the Golden Knights, former San Jose rival Pete DeBoer.
Recently, discussions in trading one of the greatest goalies the sports has ever seen, and fan-favorite, golden boy himself (no pun intended), goaltender Marc Andre Fleury. The first player ever picked by the Golden Knights. So far, Fleury has stayed and has led them to another final four of hockey.
Foley has set up and created a hockey organization that is helping the NHL surpass Major League Baseball in interest. The newest challenge is the recent fall of the NBA’s interest and its over-political posture. Granted, once the covid restrictions end, fans will flock back to the NBA arenas. But, players like LeBron James, who is driving fans by the tens of thousands away from the television screen, Foley and his hockey club are doing the exact opposite.
One visit to the Vegas Golden Knights fan Facebook page will show you the rabid interest in this team. Many Vegas fans have no clue about hockey rules and schemes, but their passion is very Canadian-like. Even slamming their own players and coaches all in the name of winning, is their way of showing love.
Moreover, the female following in Vegas crushes any other team in the league, and it’s not even close. Vegas hockey is now a win-or-else atmosphere.
Las Vegas is unmatched in tourism, visitors, and vacation interest. This means an opportunity for new fans to love a team that wins big. A state-of-the-art arena with semi-affordable seats (but getting more expensive), and star power to bring in more fans and consistent sellout arenas.
It’s only been four years, and this might be the year that Vegas brings home Lord Stanley
The bottom line is this, Bill Foley, management, and coaching have gone out and got the players they want to win championships. They have built a marketing juggernaut in the world’s entertainment capital and are poised to win every season, increasing the fan base and interest in professional hockey.
But no matter what, the Las Vegas Golden Knights have made hockey interesting, fun, competitive, and most importantly, watchable. Something the NBA and MLB are not.