Vegas ticket drive nears 11,000

The trial season-ticket drive by prospective owners of a new NHL franchise in Las Vegas is expected to top the 11,000 mark by the end of Monday, a source told ESPN.com.

While there remains widespread belief within the hockey community that the NHL will become the first major professional sports league to put down stakes in the gambling mecca, it is now believed that the earliest a team would begin play is the 2017-18 season.

Bill Foley, the main investor in the group, had initially expressed optimism that an expansion team could take the ice in the fall of 2016, about four months after the Las Vegas Arena is expected to open on the strip.

The $350 million building, with a hockey capacity of about 17,300, is being built by AEG and MGM Resorts International and is currently under construction.

The NHL has never formally indicated it is contemplating expanding from its current 30-team roster. But it did take the unusual step of allowing Foley and his group to engage in a trial season-ticket drive to gauge interest in the marketplace for hockey.

The ticket drive began in February with investors targeting individuals and small businesses, believed to be integral to the success of any franchise in the city.

Recently the NHL raised no opposition to the group moving into a second phase, which targeted larger corporations, including casino owners.

Those corporate clients have committed to 1,000 season tickets and there is an expectation of 500 more, a source told ESPN.com.

Along with 735 suite seats that have been sold as part of 10-year deals, it is believed the group will shortly have commitments for more than 13,000 seats.

What happens next remains fluid.

One thing appears certain: The NHL will not discuss the Vegas expansion bid specifically at its next board of governors meeting, which happens to be scheduled for Las Vegas during the NHL's annual awards festivities during the third week of June.

There will undoubtedly be an update on the Vegas situation, although it remains unclear whether Foley will even be invited to the meeting.

It is a distinct possibility that, without formally identifying the Foley group, the NHL could take the opportunity at the Vegas meeting to formally open the expansion process and begin the vetting process for interested owners, including the Foley group.

One source told ESPN.com that, if that was the case, a possible timetable for an announcement of expansion to Las Vegas, which would include payment of at least part of the expansion fee, would be in September. That would give the Foley group two years to assemble its hockey operations staff to begin the process of scouting and planning to build a team.

Foley's group has already had discussions with the AEG/MGM group regarding a lease agreement for Las Vegas Arena.

The expansion fees are expected to be between $450 million and $500 million.