Potential Las Vegas owners get strong response to ticket drive

The ticket drive to determine whether there's enough interest from hockey fans in Las Vegas to pursue an expansion franchise will begin on Feb. 10.

But in truth, the campaign is well underway.

Potential owners Bill Foley and members of the Maloof family, who are longtime Las Vegas businessmen, as well as the former owners of the NBA's Sacramento Kings, have hosted two receptions in recent days to identify business and civic leaders who will be counted on as point people in making sure the word gets out about the ticket drive that could bring the region its first major professional sports team.

Organizers were initially hoping to identify 50 such leaders who would be known as the Founding 50.

Response was so good they have now rebranded the group as the Founding 75, with upwards of 80 core members having agreed to reach out and find 60 other individuals who will commit to making a down payment on season tickets, multiple sources told ESPN.com.

Poker star and avid hockey fan Daniel Negreanu has publicly identified himself as one of the founding members and has tweeted messages about the ticket drive since the receptions were held.

Between the core group and the broader season-ticket drive that will begin in February, the ownership group is hoping to collect 10,000 deposits, a number the NHL suggested in sanctioning the trial ticket run in early December, although others are hoping to see that number reach beyond 12,000.

The deposits, which will be for specific seats and specific season-ticket packages, will range from $150 to $900 and will be nonrefundable if the city is granted an expansion team.

If the drive fails and/or at some point the league opts not to make a move to Las Vegas, the deposits would be returned.

In an earlier conversation with ESPN.com, Foley, a successful insurance financier and wine mogul, said the ideal situation would see a Vegas expansion team ready to move into the new arena being built on the Las Vegas strip by the fall of 2016. The arena, being built by AEG and MGM Resorts International, is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2016 and will have an occupancy for hockey of 17,500.

The plan is for the ticket drive to target individuals and small-business owners as opposed to major casino operators and visitors to the gambling and entertainment mecca because the ownership group as well as market experts believe the path to success for a potential major pro sports team is through local residents and businesses.

Casinos and visitors to Las Vegas -- more than 40 million visitors are expected this coming year -- would also provide revenues through ticket sales, but it's the rank-and-file ticket buyer who is seen as key to success.

If those ticket buyers can't be identified and/or won't commit to putting a deposit on tickets in significant enough numbers by the end of March, it’s likely the league will walk away from the city as a potential landing place for a new or relocated team.

If, however, the targeted numbers are met, it will make for some interesting discussions among NHL owners who stand to receive more than $450 million in expansion fees from the ownership group. That money is not required to be shared with NHL players as part of the collective bargaining agreement.

Sources confirmed to ESPN.com that the Foley/Maloof ownership group has already had discussions with the arena's builders about becoming an anchor tenant as well as producing money to cover the expansion fees.

The ticket campaign will have a social media component, and temporary office space has already been secured in Las Vegas, ESPN.com was told. Also, office staff who will follow up with potential ticket buyers are being hired.

By the end of the campaign, it's believed the potential ownership group will have spent $1.5 million to fund the ticket drive.