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Carp: The AHL In Vegas? An Interesting Proposition

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

Before the NHL accepted Bill Foley’s $500 million and let him join their exclusive club, I floated the idea to him about the possibility of putting his American Hockey League affiliate in Las Vegas.

After all, the perfect venue was right down the street from T-Mobile Arena in the Orleans Arena. It sat around 7,000 for hockey. It had free parking. The concessions were fairly priced. He probably could cut a decent deal with Boyd Gaming on the lease.

Best of all, he could get players to transfer back and forth from the parent club without having to get on a plane to do so.

Foley didn’t think it would work. He thought the franchise would be better served having its farm team in another location.

Of course, no one back in 2016 had any idea what was going to happen a year and a half later. The Golden Knights took the league and the city by storm and had unprecedented success on and off the ice. Suddenly, there were people on waiting lists to purchase season tickets. And even as the team jacked up the price of season tickets, most of the subscribers have stayed loyal.

So now there was a glut of hockey fans who go gaga over the Golden Knights but can’t get into T-Mobile Arena. It is indeed a fortress, accessible only by financial largesse to a privileged few.

What to do?

Bring another team to town. Play at the Orleans for a couple seasons until your rink in Henderson is built for the AHL team. Use the guys you already have under contract with the Chicago Wolves. Hell, the fans already know who all those guys are. It’ll be an easy transition. They could play in a division with Ontario, Bakersfield, Stockton, Tucson, San Diego, Palm Springs (when Seattle launches in a couple of years) and yes, San Jose.

Sounds good in theory, doesn’t it?

Sure does, especially If you’re Kerry Buboltz, the team’s president who continues to come up with creative ways to separate you from your money so they can pay Mark Stone $9.5 million annually for the better part of this decade.

Would this AHL in Las Vegas/Henderson idea work? My thinking to Foley was it would be an affordable alternative for those who couldn’t go to an NHL game, like the Wranglers were while cultivating more fans for the Vegas NHL team.

Yes, I knew it would cost more to go to an AHL game instead of an ECHL contest. But if you could take your family to a game at the Orleans for under $100, that would help make it work.

Where it really works is from a hockey standpoint. A defenseman goes down, an AHL callup could drive 10 minutes from the Orleans to T-Mobile. The AHL guys can live in Summerlin and practice at City National Arena or the team’s under-construction rink in Henderson. George McPhee could still pull his creative strings to clear salary cap space and the team would save a ton on travel costs. They can scout the organization’s players more often. They can regularly interact with the AHL team’s coaching staff. It would certainly streamline things.

However, would it work at the turnstiles? Could you turn a profit by owning your own AHL team? Currently, the Knights have a partnership with the Wolves, who are independently owned. The Wolves are staying put, though they’ll get a whole new roster of players from their next NHL affiliate once Vegas pulls its players out of Chicago.

I’m not a tax attorney so I don’t know how things like capital gains, depreciation, write-offs of player and staff salaries, the value of buildings and other things impact the bottom line. I’m guessing it’s to Foley’s advantage to own his own team rather than “lease” one.

But how many people would show up on a consistent basis? I was looking at the AHL attendance figures the other day. There are four AHL teams that play in NHL markets — Chicago, Toronto, Winnipeg and San Jose. Of the four, only the Wolves do not have their NHL affiliate in the same city. Yet of the four, they have the highest average attendance — 6,720.

The Toronto Marlies, the Maple Leafs’ affiliate, averages 5,641. Remember, this is Toronto we’re talking about where Leafs tickets are the highest priced in the entire NHL (Yes, even higher than the Golden Knights, hard as that may be to believe).

The Manitoba Moose, who play in the same building as the Winnipeg Jets, average just 4,772 a night at Bell MTS Place.

But the most obvious, and glaring comparison, is in San Jose, where the Barracuda, who play at SAP Center, the home of the Sharks, average 3,601, fifth lowest in the entire AHL.

Ironically, the Sharks just got the green light the other day from the San Jose City Council to build a 4,200-seat arena as part of their practice complex. They obviously have seen the light and will look to monopolize the revenues that would come with owning their own rink for their AHL team.

The AHL’s attendance leader? Bubolz’s old team, the Cleveland Monsters, who are Columbus’ farm team and draw just under 9,000 a game. You may have forgotten that Bubolz worked in hockey once upon a time along with working for the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.

You can get into a Monsters game for as little as $12, which could be why the team draws so well. In San Jose, it’s just $10 to get in, the cheapest price of any of the AHL’s 31 teams. The most expensive seat? One on the glass in San Diego, where it’s $113. Cleveland has the second-most expensive ticket in the AHL at $90, which is also down by the glass.

The average lowest-priced ticket to see an AHL game is $16. Every team runs ticket promotions such as family packs, student and military discounted seats and virtually all of them will give you a deep discount if you purchase season tickets.

I’m guessing if the Knights make it affordable, you will go to an AHL game in Las Vegas or Henderson. For those of you who went to watch the Wranglers, and even the Thunder back in the 1990s and early 2000s, it was a relatively inexpensive, fun evening’s entertainment.

If Foley and Bubolz do it right, if they don’t gouge you, this can work. Your kids, who play floor hockey in their P.E. class and have fallen in love with the sport, can go see a real game and aspire to one day own season tickets to the Golden Knights while rooting for the future Knights.

But there is some risk involved here. What happens if the Knights falter? What if they miss the playoffs for a couple of consecutive years? What happens when the fans stop showing up to T-Mobile? Are they going to suddenly flock to watch a minor league team in what is now a major league city?

What if the NBA puts a team in Las Vegas? What if T.J. Otzelberger gets UNLV basketball going and the Rebels are going to the NCAA Tournament and making a deep run, or, somehow made it to the Final Four? What if Marcus Arroyo does what no other UNLV football coach hasn’t done in decades and turns the program into a consistent winner that goes to bowl games and wins in the postseason?

And then there’s the Raiders.

What if Jon Gruden gets the Silver and Black to the playoffs and ultimately to the Super Bowl? You may not be a Raiders fan. But if you’re a Las Vegan you’ll likely get swept up in the euphoria of your city having a winning NFL team.

The reality is there is competition for your discretionary income dollar. It just hasn’t truly manifested itself because of UNLV’s struggles, the fact the NBA isn’t here yet and the Raiders are just getting going here.

The other reality is the Knights aren’t always going to be great. They’re going to struggle some years. And some of you may very well bail on them at some point. Right now, you’re staying loyal despite an up-and-down first half of the season. You’re still showing up at T-Mobile. You’re still engaged. You’re still hopeful.

But should things go south for this franchise, are you prepared to support an inferior brand of hockey, even if it is a more affordable option? And even if things stay, ahem, golden, are you willing to commit more financial resources to watch the AHL on a regular basis?

I like the idea from a hockey standpoint. From a fan’s standpoint, I’m not enamored by it. But maybe affordable tickets, free parking and cold beer at a reasonable price might make me change my mind.

**Steve Carp is the author of “Vegas Born — The remarkable story of the Golden Knights.” Follow him on Twitter @stevecarp56. All of Steve Carp’s work here on SinBin.vegas is presented to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm. For over twenty-five years, the Jimmerson Law Firm has been widely recognized as one of Las Vegas’s preeminent full-service law firms. Specializing in high stakes business, civil and family litigation, the Jimmerson Law Firm has an unparalleled track record of winning when it matters most. To reach the Jimmerson Law Firm, call (702) 388-7171 and tell them SinBin.vegas sent you.**

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10 Comments

  1. Tim

    I think bringing the AHL team here would be great. I’d love to watch the young kids develop and if they televised away games to keep people more interested it would be great. Don’t worry about the UNLV football team I’ve been here since they started in 1968 and except for the Randell Cunningham and Mike Thomas era they couldn’t draw flies. I basketball since Dark was blackballed besides a few years with Kruger you don’t have to worry about the basketball team there never coming back. After the NBA All Star fiasco that was held here I hope they never get an NBA team. It was all covered up but it was a joke how people took advantage of our city.

  2. DOC Williams

    I’m all-in for bringing the AHL “SILVER KNIGHTS” to town. I’m a die hard Knight AND hockey fan. Since I can only afford to go to ONE Knight game a year, after saving for months … I would love to go to LIVE professional hockey, at an affordable price!!!!!

  3. Rob T

    I thought Salt Lake City made more sense to be honest. It’s a larger city with far less competition for people’s discretionary income. They already have a decent 10,000 seat arena where their ECHL team plays.

    Setting up shop there would grow the VGK fan base regionally, would put players an hour flight away with dozens of daily commercial direct flights, and just seems like a smarter idea. But I’m not a sports exec, so maybe there’s angles I don’t see.

    • Jason P

      Yes Rob!!! I have season tickets to the Knights but live in SLC….I’d love to see the Grizzlies franchise become the AHL affiliate for the Knights and it would be a great way for them to expand their footprint into the state…

  4. Lara

    I share your concern about attendance, Steve. But I think it’s worth pointing out that, while the Kings’ and Ducks’ AHL affiliates are not in the same *city* as their parent clubs, they are in the same markets. The Kings’ affiliate, the Reign, plays in Ontario, which is part of the LA market, and they draw quite well. I’ve been to a Reign game, and it is a high-quality endeavor, from an entertainment standpoint. And the Ducks’ affiliate, the Gulls, is in San Diego, which is not far from Anaheim. As you mentioned, the ticket prices are sturdy for the Gulls, which would indicate they have strong attendance as well. These situations don’t necessarily translate to the Las Vegas situation because it’s a larger population base, but I wanted to add them to your “same market” list.

  5. Gigi Frieling

    Las Vegas was on our radar as a place to retire to, from So Cal. We were Ontario Reign STH for 10 years and Wrangler STH during their last year. Being thrilled to hear that hockey was returning to Vegas, we vowed to support it at any level. This is not a popular stance, but we were secretly hoping it would be an AHL franchise. Then, VGK came along. True to our word, we jumped in with both feet. We put our deposit down the minute they would take our money and we started the transition to move to Vegas. Yes, we love it and we love attending live games. But, the cost will not be sustainable when we are fully on a fixed income. We were contemplating alternatives when this news broke. We couldn’t be more excited, and I’m sure I’m not the only one, to feel that this avenue will allow us to remain dedicated to VGK at a lower price point.

  6. J. Griffith

    Yes! AHL will work in Vegas/Henderson. Fans will remain loyal to Vegas at a lower price point.

    Low ticket prices, free parking and reasonable food and beverage prices are a key to growing the hockey fan community in the desert.

    I am Very interested in closely watching player development.

    VGK tickets are not in my budget..

  7. A Fan

    Cost will determine success or failure.

    You said it all right here:

    “But maybe affordable tickets, free parking and cold beer at a reasonable price might make me change my mind.”

  8. As a business man do you risk the substitution affect given the current ticket etc pricing for going to T-Mobile. I look around at the 18000+ each game with little kids occupying pricey seats wearing pricey jerseys etc and wonder where will the insane prices stop. An owner has to ask do l want to risk giving that up. Reading the comments indicates l will. Fans apparently will go to the AHL games and pass the problems associated with going to T-Mobile and save a ton .Ticket prices are bad enough let alone concession pricing etc. You can fly lots of players around the country for what you potentially give up having a local AHL team and the expenses associated with such.

  9. DOC Williams

    IF the GOLDEN Knights remain successful on the ice … then … the SILVER Knights will not affect attendance or high prices at T-Mobile! What it will do is allow us fans that can’t afford to go to T-Mobile games, a chance to see live games and cheer for the SILLVER Knights! Forget the :business: aspect. A guy that can pay 500 MILLION for the NHL, can afford the “pocket change” cost of the AHL SILVER Knights franchise!!!!!!!!!

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