During the Golden Knights’ first season, the team racked up wins one after another, steamrolling opponents on their way to the Stanley Cup Final.
And off the ice, business was booming.
Knights merchandise was a hot commodity during the regular season, and sales accelerated in the playoffs. Across the valley, locals bought Knights shirts and jerseys, slapped bumper stickers on their cars and gathered for watch parties as the team pushed deeper into the postseason. The team’s playoff tickets were among the most expensive, if not the priciest, on the resale market in the NHL.
The Knights haven’t been as dominant on the ice this season, but there is still plenty of excitement for desert hockey.
Right around when the playoffs started this past spring, online retailer Fanatics said the Knights led the NHL in merchandise sales through its network. This season, the team’s sales volume is up 20 percent from the same period last year, Fanatics spokesman Brandon Williams said recently.
‘It’s not the same’
The atmosphere at Buffalo Wild Wings at Montecito Crossing, a northwest valley strip mall, transformed into something new during the playoffs.
“It was extremely loud and fun, and there was a sea of Knights jerseys in here,” said restaurant assistant general manager David Mousaw. “I’ve done this 20 years, and those were some of the most fun shifts I’ve worked.”
Buffalo Wild Wings saw a substantial jump in revenue during the playoffs, he said, though he would not give more specific data. Back in mid-November, Mousaw said overall sales volume had increased compared to the last season, but the number of people coming to watch the games has dwindled.
At one point that month the Knights had one of the worst records in the NHL.
“It’s not the same volume of crowds,” Mousaw said in November. “If they’re having a rough night, a lot of Knights fans are gone by the second period.”
Now that the Knights’ performance has improved, Mousaw said crowds are sticking around until the end, fueling themselves with more food and drink orders.
As of Thursday, the Knights were in the top half of the league.
“(The Knights) have had a couple close games, they’ve had a couple overtime games,” he said. “People stay for that.”
At the southwest valley location of sports bar Born and Raised, smaller crowds have also turned out to watch Knights games compared with the same time last year, general manager Ben Burkhalter said.
According to Burkhalter, Las Vegas residents can be fair-weather fans toward local teams. But he also believes the Knights have given the city a chance to learn how to be a supportive fan base.
“Hockey’s still trying to find its niche in the desert,” he said. “It’s still trying to figure out the fans. It’s building and it’s growing.”
‘Just as consistent’
Hockey crowds are by no means shrinking everywhere. Jimmy Wadhams, vice president of tavern operations for Golden Entertainment, said the company’s PT’s locations across the valley have seen bigger Knights crowds this year.
“The sport is just as consistent as last year, if not better,” he said. “We’re seeing more support for the Golden Knights. … It’s a product of the success of last season.”
At Hop Nuts Brewing in the Las Vegas Arts District, all four TVs tune into the Knights on game days. Owner Kevin Holder said he usually sees a crowd of 15 to 30 people come in for every game, and his brewery serves a Belgian golden strong ale dubbed The Golden Knight.
Holder said customer volume has been substantial, but crowds in November and December didn’t compare to those during the playoffs, which often had twice as many fans crammed inside.
“When a team’s not doing well, you get less viewers,” Holder said. “That first season was just amazing. … In the second year, it’s hard to create that buzz.”
‘The best ever’
Among the many signs of playoff fervor this past spring: Fans waited in lines 100 people deep to get into the retail shop at City National Arena, the team’s practice rink. The day after the Knights defeated the Winnipeg Jets to advance to the Stanley Cup Final, the store sold nearly 1,000 Western Conference champion shirts and about 1,000 Western Conference champion hats — by noon.
At sports apparel chain Lids, which boasts more than 1,000 locations, the Knights’ playoff sales volume was “by far the best ever” among NHL teams, Bob Durda, Lids’ vice president of buying and merchandising, said before the championship round.
“It’s crazy the amount of headwear we’re going through right now,” he said at the time.
Matt Nyman, owner of the USA Hockey Store at Fashion Show mall, said recently that his Knights merchandise sales showed signs of improvement from September through November of this year. But overall, they were down 20 percent from the same period in 2017, he estimated.
Durda said recently that when the Knights “got off to a slow start, we were a little concerned.” But the team’s apparel still posted sales gains “week after week.” he said.
“Now that they’re playing well, and going into holiday season, it’s been even better,” he said.
Brian Killingsworth, the Knights’ chief marketing officer, said recently that different leagues and teams have called to learn about the first-year retail bonanza.
The focus this season, he said, is the “lifestyle brand.”
Examples include adult onesies, luggage, bicycle shirts and leopard pattern faux-fur jackets with matching purses for sale at The Arsenal store at City National Arena.
Tickets are still highly coveted. StubHub, a dominant resale ticketing site, announced in September that the Knights were the NHL’s “most in-demand team” on its site for the second year in a row.
According to Forbes magazine, the Knights rank among the top teams in the NHL for season ticket holders (more than 14,000), average single-game ticket price ($160) and season ticket waiting list (more than 6,000).
Ticket broker Ken Solky, owner of LasVegasTickets.com, said the Knights enjoy a “fantastic combination” of hometown fans and visitors who “make a trip out of it.”
During hockey season, according to Solky, the Knights are the hottest attraction in town.
“It’s not even close,” he said.