SBJ/Jan. 23-29, 2017/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Catching up with Bill Foley, Vegas Golden Knights

For Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley, the buildup to the launch of the franchise is like a train station. “It’s like we have eight different trains that have all left the station on parallel tracks. Some are going faster than others right now, but they will all get to their destination next October when the puck drops.” Vegas will be the NHL’s 31st franchise and its first expansion team since 2000 when it begins play in the 2017-18 season. Foley, the chairman of Fidelity National Financial, spoke with SportsBusiness Journal hockey writer Ian Thomas about the team’s progress.

This is your first foray into sports after a successful business career. How have you approached ownership?
I’m a hands-on guy, so day to day I’m working with these guys. I’ve tried to apply the things I’ve learned from my corporate career to the team, which I would say is characterized by a very lean, flat organization. We don’t have a GM who reports to a VP who reports to an SVP who reports to me — it’s [GM] George [McPhee] to me. There’s not a lot of layers, and I want to keep it very action-oriented and not allow it to be a bureaucracy.

Are you pleased with the progress so far?
I wanted to make sure we had the hockey side put together before we started putting the business side together, but overall I feel like we’re doing great. We’re in the process of building our practice facility, which is separately financed. Of course the arena is done, and I think we’re in great shape on ticketing. We’re working on our TV deal now, and as soon as we make our final payment [to the NHL] in March, we’ll really start cranking.

What did you see in the NHL that made you decide to invest $500 million in an expansion team?
I feel over the last 20 years, the league has grown immensely, and the league has responded to the recent CBA agreement by developing a league that has a lot of equality in it — it’s a great opportunity. From my discussions with [NHL Commissioner] Gary [Bettman] and the other owners, they’ve given us an opportunity to start from a stronger foundation with how they’ve structured the expansion process.

What’s your biggest concern?
The biggest unknown and biggest risk we have is what happens three years down the road. Our ticket sales have been long-term deals, but we need to make sure we’re engaged in the community and ensure they are involved with us. Part of it is being competitive, but part of it is also being connected, making sure we’re working to develop youth hockey programs or working with charities and making sure our players are available and going to events. I feel like it’s set up for us to be very successful. Now we have to execute.

How are you ensuring that happens in Las Vegas, a city known for tourism?
I believe we will develop a very successful indigenous [youth] hockey program, and that will result in us not having to depend on tourists to sell out our games. … My goal is that when a visiting team comes in, I don’t want to see any Blackhawks jerseys or whoever we’re playing, just ours.

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