Crazy days and Knights for Vegas’ big week
|Owner Bill Foley greets fans outside the NHL Awards at T-Mobile Arena.
Dubbed “The Armory,” the store features nods to the mix of mythological and military themes that has inspired owner Bill Foley through the creation of his new NHL team. There’s the round table — perfect for Knights — covered with team merchandise, as well as the nearly 9-foot knight that greets fans as they enter the store.
The store opening was the first piece of perhaps the most hectic and most important five days for the franchise so far, leading up to its first game this fall.
But as Knights coach Gerard Gallant, with team President Kerry Bubolz and Nehme Abouzeid, senior vice president and CMO, held up scissors to cut through the ceremonial ribbon, one person was missing: the one person whose fingerprints are on everything the team has done to this point, Foley.
In Summerlin, a suburb 15 miles west of Las Vegas’ famous Strip and T-Mobile Arena, Foley is holed up alongside general manager George McPhee, assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon and scouts in the team’s temporary headquarters. The group has been working on expansion draft scenarios for months, but the work has ramped up with the approach of the June 21 expansion draft. Foley himself came to the office around noon Saturday. A mock draft later, discussions over players and reports from calls with other general managers, and it was suddenly Saturday night. That became Sunday, and then it was Monday afternoon. While Foley was serving more as an onlooker than a talent evaluator, he couldn’t hide his enthusiasm.
“Every time we do something, it’s the first time that I’ve ever done it, so it’s great to see everything fall into place — but this might be the most fun part,” he said.
It’s been an exhausting journey for Foley. While his ambitious effort to launch a season-ticket drive without the guarantee of a team led to more than 14,000 deposits, he did it with little of his business side in place, not wanting to risk capital or spend a substantial amount of money without the guarantee of a franchise. Once the NHL chose Vegas, he had to not only put together a group that could build a team on the ice but one that could build the brand off of it.
“We’re calling this the Golden Knights’ ‘Takeover Week’ (see box),” said Abouzeid, standing in the new team store. “This is a hypercompetitive market, and every day there is an event or a convention that if you talk to a particular tourist, that’s the only thing they know is going on in the city here. We want to be the latest headliner on the Strip that stands out.”
For Abouzeid, who joined the team in November after more than 14 years in marketing roles in the casino industry, pitching a team that didn’t have a name or logo until January — or a jersey or players until June — has presented a unique challenge. “We’ve had to hold our tongues for so long, and when you launch something like this you can’t get it wrong,” he said.
“We’ve been able to take a look at what other teams do. I love what the San Jose Sharks do, or the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Nashville Predators, so while we want to take a page out of everyone else’s book, we also want to make sure we’re putting our own little Vegas spin on it,” he said. “You have to sell the sizzle a little bit here, but once you scratch the surface you realize how much substance there is to this city.”
That community-first mindset showcased in Nashville is something that Abouzeid is aiming for the team to replicate. Even before the team had selected players in the expansion draft, they had lined up several community appearances for the to-be-announced players later last week, as well as a free event at T-Mobile Arena where fans could meet and watch the amateur draft together. The team’s training center, expected to be completed by August, will add two sheets of ice to an area that has only three. The team is also working with middle and high schools on ways to bring hockey to gym classes.
|Those at the team store opening included (from second from left) the Golden Knights’ Nehme Abouzeid, Kerry Bubolz and Gerard Gallant; BMX gold
medalist Connor Fields; and Erin Jones of team retail partner Rank & Rally.
The Golden Knights will also try to have single-game sales, but Bubolz said they now expect to have only 1,000 to 1,500 tickets a game available when they go on sale in August.
Foley was looking forward to stepping out of the spotlight for a bit once the week’s worth of events was done, but he wasn’t stepping back his enthusiasm, declaring that the team’s goal is to be competing for Stanley Cups by year six.
“I know we are going to do better than we expected, both on and off the ice,” Foley said. “On the business side, we’re operating as a very revenue-driven team, and I expect to be top 10 in the league in revenue from year one.”
The team’s ticket pricing, in particular its premium products, puts it well above average in the NHL, though the team’s broadcast contract is not comparable to others across the league in terms of revenue.
Foley said he’s been pleased with sponsorship sales. He was concerned when the Oakland Raiders announced they would be moving to the city but said that has not produced a drop-off in corporate interest. The NHL has helped to open up the hospitality category so that the team could strike deals with the lucrative casino hotels that call Las Vegas home.
It’s a bit hard for Foley to not get lost in his schedule. He was front and center at the league’s jersey unveiling late Tuesday, then was up early the next morning heading into his first official board of governors meeting, followed by introducing his team on stage during the expansion draft. He headed out afterward to attend meetings and a golf event at the club and community he owns in Idaho, with plans to be back in Las Vegas by Monday for the team’s first developmental camp. Regardless of his location, he hasn’t lost sight of his vision for the team.
“I was told that the knight in the store was going to be a little more expensive than what we had budgeted for, so ‘Should we tell the designer to scale it back a bit?’” he said. “But are you kidding me? Every kid is going to want their picture taken with it. I can’t wait to see it in person.”