Vegas/NHL Win Big

NHL hands out awards, including franchise to Sin City, now Sports City

Big news out of Las Vegas, where Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane became the second U.S.-born player to win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player. Kane, also the NHL scoring champion in 2015–16, is the first Chicago player to win the Hart Trophy since legendary Stan Mikita in 1968.

As grand as that is, what went on in Vegas on Wednesday night could not stay wholly in Vegas — a place where “sin” and “city” are synonymous. A place where you can simultaneously be in a pool and a club, enjoy a great meal and a massage, and lose your life’s savings all in one day. The kind of place necessitating a recovery vacation after visiting.

That is the Vegas most of us know — cool, clock-free casinos, flashy shows, sexy ladies who make us wonder what kind of workout routine we need to immediately run home and start doing (I can’t be the only one who has that thought), hot desert days and nights and gambling; so much damn gambling.

What people don’t always realize about Vegas is that off the strip, there’s an entirely different culture. There are suburban homes, families, jobs that have nothing to do with entertainment. There is a legit community of people living life beyond the glow of over-the-top hotels and all-day and night parties. And come 2017, there will be something new coming to Vegas: hockey.

Wednesday, the NHL officially announced that it would expand into Vegas. A market that has been aching for sports to play a role in its culture, beyond the stigma of gambling, finally gets to take a slap shot at being a professional sports city. (Sorry!)

That’s been the agonizing issue for Vegas city officials, who have for years been trying to bring a pro franchise to its stereotypically “sinful” market. The stumbling block? Sports betting. Sports betting is the migraine of headaches for executives of sports leagues, who have been historically paralyzed by fear of scandal, overriding logic and evidence that just because sports betting exists, scandalous havoc will not tempt teams within the city.

In 2007, I took a History of Baseball class in college, which dove into the business and economics of baseball. Our final project was to build a mock MLB expansion team from the ground up in a market that didn’t currently have a team.

We chose Vegas.

Why? Because at the time, Vegas was the fastest growing city in the United States, with people flocking to it like a Coachella festival weekend in April. The market was hot, literally and figuratively. We did the research and all the numbers just made sense. Not to mention, any time a sporting event happened in Vegas, it was a massive success. There was plenty of space to build a stadium, plenty of people to attend games. Plenty of private investors in the market who could afford to build a team. It was a no-duh.

Our team? The Las Vegas Aces (because duh). Our stadium? Wynn Field (named after our mock owner and bazillionaire Vegas hotelier, Steve Wynn). Our mock stadium overlooked the Vegas Strip and had the perfect mix of family-friendly areas and areas for entertainment — it even had a retractable roof for hot desert temperature issues. Our mock players were the good guys in baseball mixed with some hopeful up-and-comers.

There was no detail missed.

We had spoken to the Vegas mayor’s office about all the logistic, and if this were real, would they be excited about it? “YOU BETTER BELIEVE THEY WOULD BE,” they told us.

We thought we had it in the bag, but unfortunately, we didn’t “win” in our class. Why? Because even our awesome professor didn’t think Vegas could pull off a professional team with the fear around sports betting.

Fast forward nearly 10 years, and our professor was wrong. (Buck, if you’re reading this — I demand a regrade! )

The NHL is officially headed to Vegas and launching the first professional sports team in the city’s history.

Although the idea of an ice sport existing in one of the most scalding hot areas in the country is ironic, this is the start of something special for Vegas residents and visitors.

Because on the heels of the NHL expansion, the city of Oakland also looks to relocate Raider Nation to Vegas; more to come on that drama.

For me, I’m relishing in the fact that in 2007, a group of hopeful students from Linfield College in Oregon were ahead of their time with those Vegas Aces playing at the beautiful Wynn Field (Linfield … Wynn Field. Seriously, how cute were we!?).

Now that the NHL took the first plunge, the likelihood of more leagues following suit is high — a big win for Vegas all around.

Ashley Wellington-Fahey is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Relish, a smart, bold, fresh voice and newsletter for female sports fans. Ashley is a Seattle native and longtime fan of the Mariners, landing a dream opportunity in her hometown to begin her career in sports. As an avid Seahawks fan now living in San Francisco, she enjoys the friendly banter among her rival 49ers friends and enjoys her seat on the bandwagon of the Golden State Warriors. Ashley takes her hot dog with everything on it, including cream cheese (aka the Seattle Dog). Her at-bat song is (not surprisingly) “Run the World (Girls)” by Queen Bey.

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