The drive to bring an NHL franchise to Las Vegas is entering a second phase with the league's blessing, prospective owner Bill Foley said Monday.
Although Foley would not discuss numbers with ESPN.com, several sources said the trial season ticket drive that had been green-lighted by the NHL late last year and began in early February had exceeded its original target of 10,000.
"We've done really, really well," Foley said.
Down payments on those tickets reflect grass-roots buyers, individuals and small businesses throughout the Las Vegas area. Now Foley is reaching out to larger corporations in Las Vegas, including major casino operations. Large banking institutions, telecommunications companies, food services operations and logistics enterprises like UPS or FedEx also are in Foley's sights.
The group will continue to take down payments on season tickets from individuals even as they move into discussions with these larger entities, many of whom have already reached out to Foley and his group, he said. It's possible that along with the sale of suites, which are at about 750 seats, the ownership group that includes Foley and the Maloof family, former owners of the Palms casino and resort in Las Vegas and the NBA's Sacramento Kings, could top the 13,000 mark for season-ticket deposits.
One source familiar with the marketplace told ESPN.com Monday there are many individuals and business operators that are also interested in buying tickets, but that are waiting for a sign from the NHL that they are serious about having a team in Las Vegas before they step forward to make financial commitments that would drive that number even higher. The league and Foley's group have been in regular contact as the process has unfolded, but the league has never officially indicated they are planning to expand from their current 30-team roster.
Still, given the current imbalance in the conferences with 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and 14 teams in the Western Conference, the league does need to at some point rectify this overload in the Eastern Conference. NHL officials declined to comment on the season ticket drive but Foley said he is hopeful that an announcement regarding the next step in the group's bid to become the NHL's 31st team would be forthcoming, "not in hours or days but not in months either."
The NHL will return to Las Vegas for its annual awards ceremony in late June. This year, both the league's general managers and board of governors will also be meeting around the time of the awards ceremony, giving rise to the idea that in the coming weeks the board of governors will formally announce it will entertain expansion proposals and that it could possibly announce a new team in Las Vegas for the start of the 2016-17 season.
Foley and his investors have already discussed a lease with the new $350-million Las Vegas Arena being built on the strip by AEG and MGM Resorts International. It is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2016. The capacity for hockey would be around 17,300.
It is believed the prospective ownership group has also had preliminary discussions about an expansion fee with the league that would be between $450 and $500 million. That money is attractive to NHL owners, as it does not have to be shared with players under the current collective bargaining agreement.