If a friendly, white-haired businessman in a blue suit asks you to fork over $150 for a season ticket down payment for a possible NHL franchise in Las Vegas, odds are good that the man is Bill Foley.
Foley, the public face of an ownership group seeking to create an NHL team in Las Vegas, arrived in Las Vegas on Thursday, lunched with MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren at the Bellagio and then schmoozed with local leaders in hopes of drumming up at least 10,000 season ticket commitments.
“If we sell the 10,000 tickets, we’ll be amazed if we don’t get a franchise,” Foley said while driving to New York-New York to check out a mock-up of a suite that will be in the $375 million arena being built by MGM Resorts and Anschutz Entertainment Group behind New York-New York and next to Monte Carlo. “It would be a shock.”
Foley, the billionaire chairman of Fidelity National Financial, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based company that provides title insurance and mortgage services, is combining forces with former Sacramento Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof of Las Vegas in an effort to launch a NHL team in Las Vegas. They want a major-league hockey team to start as early as the 2016-17 season at the MGM-AEG arena, scheduled to open in April 2016.
Foley is aiming to launch the season ticket deposit drive on Feb. 10 to show National Hockey League officials that Las Vegas is a viable big-league hockey market. The league told him that a minimum of 10,000 season ticket commitments is necessary, Foley said.
The game plan is to create a core launch committee called the Las Vegas Founding 50. The number reached 68 as of Thursday afternoon, Foley said, adding he hopes it hits 100.
Each founding member would be charged with selling at least 60 season ticket deposits. If 100 founding members each sell 60 ticket deposits, that’s 6,000 — more than half of the minimum of 10,000, Foley said. Deposits are refundable if no team is secured.
Foley said he is working with the two Maloofs plus California consultant Tony Guanci and Peter Sadowski, Fidelity National Financial executive vice president and chief legal officer — a fivesome that the title insurance businessman dubbed, “The Gang of Five.” Foley is also a West Point graduate and lawyer and also owns 14 wineries and a working cattle ranch and golf course community in Montana.
After lunching with Murren, Foley sat in the mock suite as a video showed the views inside the arena, which will have about 18,000 seats for hockey.
“It’s a great arena for hockey,” Mark Faber, AEG senior vice president for global partnerships, told Foley.
As the video showed the arena floor morph from a boxing ring to a hockey rink to a basketball court, Foley was wowed. “This is a no-brainer. Look at this,” he said. “This is more than I expected.”
While checking out the suite, Foley met one of the members of the Las Vegas Founding 50 — developer Gary Goett.
“How many tickets will you sell for us?” Foley asked Goett.
“Maybe I’ll buy one of those (arena) boxes,” Goett responded.
“That too,” Foley quipped.
After checking out the arena suite, Foley and his group visited the Palms at a session hosted by Gavin Maloof to chat with some of the Founding 50. At the meeting, the Founding 50 showed a video of Gov. Brian Sandoval voicing his support for an NHL franchise.
Former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly gave a pep talk to the business leaders.
“Let’s go out and sell,” Maloof said.
A similar Founding 50 reception is set for Friday.
One of the Founding 50, William Boyd, Boyd Gaming director and vice president, said he’s in because Las Vegas has enough hockey fans who have moved from other hockey markets. Boyd said Gavin Maloof contacted him to be a founding member.
“We have a fan base interested in hockey,” Boyd said, adding many Las Vegas-area residents are hockey fans who have moved from Midwest and East hockey markets.
Guanci, who has helped the Maloofs on business deals with the NBA Sacramento Kings, envisions that individual game tickets would range from $20 to $220 apiece.
The NHL is intrigued by the Las Vegas market, and league Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly has recently visited the arena construction site and checked out the suite mock-up.
Bill Hornbuckle, president of MGM Resorts, said in a statement: “MGM continues to have interest in NHL hockey coming to Las Vegas and possibly to our arena. We remain very interested in the potential for adding this exciting dynamic to our future arena event schedule.”
Foley’s two-day visit includes stops to see Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman and Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen.
Foley said there would be a naming contest to pick a name for the club. He likes the name Black Knights, the nickname for the U.S. Military Academy sports teams. He said other possible names could be Scorpions and Rattlers.
Contact Alan Snel at email@example.com or 702-387-5273. Find him on Twitter: @BicycleManSnel