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Guest Post: TV Ratings Indicate Long Term Success For NHL In Las Vegas

One of our goals here at is to be the voice of the valley when it comes to the NHL. In trying to do so we often have the opportunity to interact with some incredible people (and excellent writers) who are equally as passionate about hockey in Las Vegas as we are. Therefore, we wanted to give you, our readers, the opportunity to let your voice be heard via guest posts to the site.

Our next guest post comes from the Vegas Hockey Podcast’s Mark Warner.

The question of whether or not the NHL is coming to Las Vegas has been answered. With the unforeseen total of season ticket commitments now past 14,500 when the pundits mockingly cited 5,000 or less as a max, the people of Las Vegas have spoken. With the recent opening of the first class, $400 million NHL ready T-Mobile Arena, the community has spoken. With a privately written $500 million check for entry into the club, The Creator has spoken loud and clear. (Looking at you Mark Davis…) As first reported by your very own the vote happens in early May and the team will be announced a couple of weeks after that. Let us now look to the future and answer some lingering questions for the doubters.

One of the most common themes among detractors is that in a few years Las Vegas will be host to a stadium full of empty seats, like Phoenix or Florida. These are often the same folks who said Mr. Foley wouldn’t sell any tickets. The reality is that the long term outlook for continued success after the honeymoon is quite good. There is, in fact, an avid hockey fan base of 110,000 to 130,000 people who live in Las Vegas. Small compared to major cities like New York, Toronto, and Los Angeles, but not bad. In reality, if people didn’t have such a skewed opinion of the city from their own experiences or how we are portrayed in the movies we would have had a team a long time ago. We are the largest metropolitan area in North America without a major sports team. The 2.3 million residents in the valley make Las Vegas the 30th largest media market in the country.

The size of the market relates to NHL viability in a few different ways. There are $50 billion spent on TV advertising each year. The rates for commercials are set based on TV ratings. Who’s tuning in, when, and how many people watch a given show drive literally billions of dollars in commerce every year. Las Vegas has proven to be consistently one of the top ten cities in the U.S. for NHL viewership. The season before the ticket drive was announced, Las Vegas ranked 13th among all markets and third among markets without teams for all NBC and NBCSN broadcasts. This means that for all 23 cities in the U.S. that actually have hockey teams, a greater share of people watch hockey in Las Vegas than 10 of them. Since the ticket drive was announced Las Vegas has moved into first place in all non-NHL cities and ninth overall, as reported by The Hockey News. Individual game analysis of ratings also indicate a hungry appetite for the NHL in Las Vegas.

Looking at some of the recent Stanley Cup Final ratings, Las Vegas rankings will surprise many of the naysayers. Starting with the 2010 Cup Final, Las Vegas’ share during the first two games was 8th in the country. Better than all but 5 cities that have teams, and two of those teams were playing in the final. Only three NHL cities that weren’t playing had a higher share than Vegas’ 3.3, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo. In short, huge media markets like New York, Los Angeles and Boston had a smaller percentage of people watching than Las Vegas. Even in traditional hockey regions like Minnesota, Vegas outperformed them.

In 2012, the numbers are even better. For Game 5 between the Kings and Devils the Vegas market drew a 5.2 share good for 8th overall and third best among all non NHL cities. Remember, these last three examples came long before any NHL to Las Vegas news started being reported. Last years Cup Final continues this trend. In game six Las Vegas rated 10th overall with a 5.1 rating, again third among all non-NHL cities, and better than all but the most hardcore hockey towns. These numbers illustrate a consistent, interested, and active market where the NHL will thrive.

Now, the automatic reaction to these numbers by the anti-Vegas crowd will be to say that everyone watching has a bet on the game. Mathematically, this just is not reality. In fact, in a recent UNLV Sports Gaming Analysis, hockey related wagering doesn’t even merit it’s own category! While the NFL, NBA, and MLB all have their own breakdowns listing billions of dollars in wagering activity, the NHL does not. I assume the hockey numbers are lumped into the “other” category, which has hundreds of millions of dollars less action than the other major sports, and includes sports like Golf, NASCAR, Boxing and MMA. In consulting with Professional Handicapper, and’ Dana Lane we learned the percentage of NHL wagering dollars spent legally in Nevada is somewhere between 1 and 3 percent of total handle, a minuscule amount compared to the other sports. Overall, legal and illegal hockey betting is estimated to be at 1 percent of total sports betting, certainly not near enough to move the TV ratings in Las Vegas into the top ten nationally. However, even the people who do have a bet on a game are most likely knowledgeable, active hockey fans. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly acknowledged this very fact when he said, “If all of those ‘eyeballs’ were gamblers, ratings wouldn’t register as highly.” and “The Las Vegas market has favorable resident income and fan demographics,” he said, “TV ratings information would suggest a better than passing interest in professional sports and in hockey in particular.”

It’s worth noting that this years playoff TV ratings are in and viewership is significantly down in Canada. Last year, with 5 teams from Canada in the playoffs TV ratings were great, as expected. What I didn’t expect was to see how dramatically the numbers drop when no Canadian teams are involved. Ken Campbell of The Hockey News reports that viewership is down 61 percent to just over 513,000 on average per game. At the same time as viewers in Canada flee when their teams are eliminated, Las Vegas numbers have risen since 2010, from 13th to 9th Nationally and to first overall in non NHL cities, even before a hint of a team coming to Vegas was on the horizon. These numbers shoot down the theory that hockey automatically works in cold weather locales, as even the Canadian markets wither in the face of bad hockey and poor management.

Backing up the Deputy Commissioner’s point about regarding the personal income in Las Vegas being conducive to an NHL franchises economic viability here is an American Business Journal Study which ranks Las Vegas a perfect 100 out of 100 in the markets ability to support an expansion NHL team specifically. Factors studied include disposable income, competing sports teams locally, and population factors. Other factors mentioned but not included are access to arena/facilities and proximity to other teams. Las Vegas will play in the beautiful new state of the art T-Mobile Arena, partnered with industry leader AEG and MGM Resorts. Check. Las Vegas is close enough to 5 other NHL teams to cultivate regional rivalries, but far enough away that there will be no competition for ticket sales. Check.

With the accuracy of TV ratings being the driving force behind billions of dollars in advertising spending annually, these figures can’t be disputed. What is clear is that the potential for long term success and an economic boon to the city, the advertisers and retailers who sponsor the team, and the NHL itself is as close to a sure bet as can be. As long time NHL goalie and former Las Vegas Thunder player, coach, and Assistant GM Clint Malarchuk told us on an episode of the Vegas Hockey Podcast, “I really think Las Vegas is a market that needs to be tapped by the NHL.” Coming from a good Son of Canada like Clint, this speaks volumes. The market studies and TV ratings back him up.

Mark Warner

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  1. Jeff

    I am curious if the TV ratings are affected by every casino and sports bar in the valley showing almost every game on their screens in the sports books etc…

    Asking a question…..not suggesting anything as I really don’t know.

    • Will

      I’d say that it is almost certainly the case. Bars running sports programming 24 hours a day. That’s not to say that Vegas doesn’t have a sports culture, because we definitely do. The casinos definitely help boost the ratings though.

  2. Nielsen ratings have been kept in one of two ways. First is the old school diary method where a certain number of households keep diaries in a market. Second, they issue set boxes to residential households that track the data off the persons actual feed automatically . As far as I could tell researching this topic, no commercial views are counted in the residential ratings. Thanks for stopping and reading the post, we appreciate it!

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