September 15 was a busy Sunday in Las Vegas, with a NASCAR race and a WNBA playoff game in town, not to mention the normal craze of it being an NFL Sunday.
But despite all the possible events for sports fans to take in, the Vegas Golden Knights filled up T-Mobile Arena for the team’s first preseason game of the 2019-2020 NHL season.
The 17,767 in attendance also could have stayed at home to watch the game – as all Golden Knights preseason games are now televised. Preseason crowds aren’t unusual for the young franchise, as last year the team averaged 17,833 at the four preseason games – T-Mobile’s seating capacity is 17,500. The attendance speaks volumes to the fanbase created by the early franchise success, but the preseason is also a focus for team President Kerry Bubolz.
“There were a lot of other things people could do at 1:30 in the afternoon in Las Vegas, to have that crowd and energy proves to me that it is a mindset than anything else,” Bubolz said. “We want to make sure fans know we value their experience and the preseason.”
Bubolz said the focus on preseason came from analysis of the team’s inaugural season that revealed half of its unsold ticket inventory was from the preseason. The results led to a dialogue of why the preseason isn’t valued and a shift in operations. The sales for this preseason have already surpassed last year, according to Bubolz.
“We’re in the ticket-selling business,” he said. “In that first year, our focus was on the home opener and were kind of throwing the preseason games away from an experience, group sales, all the things that go into the business.”
“But if you’re a fan and paying the same price, they deserve the same experience.”
While the Golden Knights still hold back a few key elements of game day presentation for the regular season, Bubolz said pretty much everything is performed with the same energy and dedication that would be expected during Oct. 2’s home opener and throughout the season.
Of course, it helps the preseason efforts when the demand for regular season tickets are through the roof. This week, StubHub released its annual NHL Preview of the “most in-demand” NHL teams, and the Golden Knights topped the list for the third straight year. The rankings were based on ticket sales for the upcoming season.
But as the first Sunday’s game demonstrated, the demand isn’t just for the regular season and the Golden Knights have taken to the airwaves to ensure fans are fully-serviced.
Following the inaugural season’s run to the Stanley Cup Final, Golden Knights fans couldn’t get enough and by the time the 2018-19 preseason started, the tickets were hard to come by and disappointment the games weren’t televised was palpable. So, this year, the team partnered with KTNV Channel 13, the local ABC-affiliate, to air the seven preseason games with team broadcasters Dave Goucher and Shane Hnidy on the call. The games are also broadcast in the Reno and Salt Lake City markets as well.
“Our fans have been tremendous from the birth of this franchise now into year three,” Golden Knights CMO Brian Killingsworth said. “We want to give them every opportunity to see not only every regular-season game but also the preseason. We cherish the fact that our fans look at the preseason games with avid interest on the same level as our regular-season games.”
Airing the games on TV falls under the same mindset, Bubolz said, as if they’re not on TV, the organization is sending a message to fans they don’t matter.
“A lot of fans want to see the future of the organization and the only way to do that is by watching the team play,” he said.
While hockey has grabbed Las Vegans’ attention and the fanbase is likely to line up for the games to get a glimpse of their favorite current, and future, players on the ice, the organization isn’t pulling any stops, either. Last year, the team featured pucks with pictures of the team’s four NHL Award winner: forward William Karlsson, defenseman Deryk Engelland, General Manager George McPhee, and head coach Gerard Gallant.
For this year’s four home preseason games at T-Mobile the Golden Knights are holding four of the team’s five bobblehead giveaways, featuring four of the team’s premier players: Karlsson, Mark Stone, Jonathan Marchessault, and Nate Schmidt.
Whether the players play in those games is up to the coaches, if they don’t it provides an opportunity to have them hand out the bobbleheads themselves, as Stone did at the first game on Sunday — before taking a helicopter to Las Vegas Speedway to take a ride in a pace car for NBC Sports.
Bubolz said keeping the arena full for every game played helps establish a reputation with the players on the ice and fans – home and away – in the crowd, all playing to the hockey culture the Golden Knights have laid a foundation for and hope to continue to build.
“Going back to the time I spent in other organizations, you’re just so focused on the home opener you forget the fan perspective,” he said. “Going through those exercises, it helped quantify that we’re leaving revenue on the table. That was good motivation and helped change my perception of how important the preseason games are.”