Before the Vegas Golden Knights even played their first NHL game in 2017, team president Kerry Bubolz said the organization had a goal of having an American Hockey League team within the same geographical footprint.
That didn’t take long for the Golden Knights to achieve, as owner Bill Foley purchased the San Antonio Rampage in February intending to move the team to Las Vegas. The now-renamed Henderson Silver Knights will play in a community just to the south of The Strip and help strengthen both player development and the bond between the Golden Knights organization and a rapidly growing hockey market and fanbase
“We believe we can take both brands and continue to elevate them and be complementary,” he said. “This is a great hockey market in the Valley, and it can be a successful business move.”
When an NHL franchise was announced for Las Vegas in 2016, there were doubts a hockey franchise could work in Nevada. Following a successful first two seasons, including a Stanley Cup Final run in their first season, the Golden Knights proved the city was itching for a home-grown major professional sports franchise.
The Golden Knights have become a must-see show, driving ticket prices upward as every home game in franchise history has sold out. The Nevada youth hockey community has also exploded, growing 86.4% from 2016 to 2019. To help further spur hockey growth in Southern Nevada, the Golden Knights are funding two ice sheets in Henderson where the Silver Knights will be headquartered. That will be alongside the 6,000-seat Henderson Event Center where the team will play games, which carries a reported $84 million price tag that will be split between the team and city.
The Henderson arena won’t be ready until the 2022 season, so the team will play at Orleans Arena, a 9,500-seat venue that once housed the city’s former ECHL team.
The AHL hypothesis seems to be correct so far. Once the AHL acquisition was announced, the team received more than 7,500 season-ticket deposits, Bubolz said. AHL tickets will start at $10, where the Golden Knights tickets had an average price tag of $173, according to SeatGeek.
“The AHL is more family-oriented because of the price, and we think there’s an opportunity for there to be a broader fanbase,” Bubolz said.
Within the business side of the organization, Bubolz draws from his experience as Cleveland Cavaliers president of business operations, where he also oversaw the team’s G League affiliate Canton Charge and the Columbus Blue Jackets’ AHL affiliate Cleveland Monsters. Some of the team’s business operations will be merged, as to capitalize on the relationship built within Las Vegas, but Bubolz also said you need staff to “live and breath the brand.”
Even more than the fan benefits will be the advantages to the hockey operations, Bubolz said. The team’s AHL affiliate its first three seasons was the Chicago Wolves, meaning a player called up or sent down would be taking a more than three-hour flight. Golden Knights forward Nicolas Roy was assigned to or recalled from the Chicago Wolves 29 times this season.
Now, the affiliate will be less than a 45-minute drive from the Golden Knights headquarters. The two teams will be among the closest affiliate relationships in hockey; San Jose, Toronto, and Winnipeg are the three NHL teams who share an arena with their AHL affiliate.
The proximity will allow for the hockey staff to work more with the minor league prospects. While the Silver Knights will have their own arena, Bubolz said there could be several double-headers at the Golden Knights’ T-Mobile Arena.
“It’s a tremendous league, it’s the second-best hockey league in the world,” Bubolz said. “When you look at our roster, every player other than one has played in the AHL, and it’s truly a great development league. Unfortunately, this year we had six or seven guys traveling back and forth to Chicago, and now they’ll be going back and forth where Vegas Golden Knights fans can watch them in person.”