Las Vegas NHL team owner Bill Foley opens up in a wide-ranging sitdown

In sports, money can buy happiness.

It also can buy heartache.

That’s a chance Bill Foley is willing to take.

The 68-year-old billionaire businessman is about to embark on perhaps his most ambitious and emotional project — a major league professional sports team.

The NHL’s decision to award Foley an expansion team in Las Vegas beginning in the 2017-18 season ends Foley’s 2½-year quest to enter the pro sports world. Now comes the real work: To put together a franchise that he hopes one day will hoist the Stanley Cup on the T-Mobile Arena ice.

Foley sat down with the Review-Journal in February and April and gave his thoughts on a wide array of topics.

Question: You could have owned a team in any sport. Why hockey?

Answer: It’s a great game. It’s fast. It’s hard-hitting. There’s a lot of action. I love it. I played as a kid when I lived in Ottawa, but I wasn’t very good.

A few years ago, I was approached about buying the Jacksonville Jaguars. I love the NFL. But to me, it wasn’t what I wanted, so I passed. But when I met (NHL commissioner) Gary Bettman and told him of my interest in hockey, that’s where it began. That was 2½ years ago. I met the Maloof brothers, Joe and Gavin. They were great guys. Together, we’ve worked on this project and it’s been an amazing experience.

Question: How did you manage to stay patient through this entire process?

Answer: It was probably the toughest thing I’ve ever done. Usually, I push to get things done very quickly. But I’ve learned to be a patient guy.

Question: What kind of team do you envision fielding?

Answer: I expect us to be competitive quickly. I don’t mean win the Stanley Cup in our first year. But I think with the way the (expansion) draft is going to be set up, we’re going to have a unique opportunity to draft some really good players who can play right away.

We’re going to have great goaltending. We’re going to have a very solid group of defensemen, and I believe we’ll get enough scoring to give us a chance to win. I don’t see us taking a lot of older guys who are at the end of their careers. I’d like to see us get a solid nucleus of young players and be able to keep them together and grow together.

Question: You’re going to have some important hires to make. Any thoughts on potential candidates to be your president of hockey operations and your general manager?

Answer: I do. We’re going to look for people who are experienced, who have a track record of success and who have an open mind as to putting a team together. The game has changed so much over the past few years. It’s an international game. You’ve got analytics playing a bigger role. It’s a faster game, so you need to have guys who can skate. We’ll be looking to combine all the elements in selecting the folks who will run the hockey side of things.

Question: Have you decided how you’re going to handle the team nickname?

Answer: We’ll go to the league with four or five names. I’m guessing any name with gambling will probably be out. Once we decide on the name, we’re going to make a big deal with the announcement. We’d like to do it as soon as possible.

The colors will be black, gold and gray. We’re going to sell a lot of jerseys. Not just in Las Vegas but around the world. China. Russia. India. All over.

Question: What’s your opinion of T-Mobile Arena?

Answer: It’s going to be unbelievable. Our fans are going to love it.

Question: What’s the latest on the practice facility in Summerlin?

Answer: We hope to break ground in September and have it operational by the time the team begins play in 2017.

It’s a critical element for us to have our own place to practice. You want your players to feel comfortable, and it gives you another selling point for free agents who are thinking of playing (in Las Vegas). This is going to be first class all the way, and it’s also going to be a place the entire community will be able to embrace.

Question: What still resonates with you about Feb. 10, 2015?

Answer: When we got into the whole program last February (2015) and we founded the ‘Las Vegas 50,’ then the ‘Las Vegas 75,’ we really didn’t know what we were doing. I had never done anything like this before. I had spent a lot of money. In retrospect, it was well spent. But at the time, it was, ‘What are we getting ourselves into?’ Because the news conference, the whole setup, the digital media, was really complicated.

But to have that news conference was amazing. To have several hundred local business people, politicians, in that meeting room, having the (NHL) commissioner (Bettman) on the stage. (Clark County commissioner) Steve Sisolak. It was really impressive. I said to myself, ‘This is really something else.’

I really thought we would have the team in no time.

Question: What made you believe you could have the team in no time?

Answer: We had dinner that night with the Maloofs, and we made a pool of how many season tickets we were going to sell that first day. I think Gavin Maloof said 12,000, and I said 2,500. I didn’t have any clue.

But we did 5,000, and I was elated. Gavin was disappointed. Then we stalled out, and we couldn’t really break through. But I started doing those meet-and-greets, and that seemed to help. We went to 6,500. Then 7,000. Then 8,000 and 9,000, and it really started rolling. We got to 10,000 in March, and looking back on it now, that was a big accomplishment. We had 10,000 people invested in a hockey team that didn’t exist.

And it kept on growing. We got to 14,000, which is truly amazing. I had a real sense of accomplishment of what happened last spring and summer. I always wanted this to be about it being Las Vegas’ team. It’s not Foley’s team. I’m just the representative providing the money and generating the interest.

Question: You’re the steward?

Answer: You’re exactly right. I’m the steward for the hockey fans of Las Vegas. And it’s fun.

Question: You’re a West Point graduate. How did that experience shape you to be the person you are?

Answer: It was the greatest time of my life. The truth be known, I had no interest in going to a military academy. I wasn’t that motivated to go to college, period. But I got accepted to West Point, and it is an amazing place.

It taught me discipline, to work with others, how to deal with people, every life lesson you can imagine. It changed me forever.

Question: You spent a lot of time cultivating relationships with companies to become corporate sponsors. Why was that so important?

Answer: We needed to be ready to go when the day came. So we spent the past few months talking to every distinct industry, both big and small, who want to get involved. The response has been tremendous. Soft drink companies. Telephone companies. Health care. Insurance. Military, preferably the Army. A lot of the companies want to be the official sponsor for the team, and that creates great cash flow that can start even before the team starts playing.

Question: You’ve been successful in virtually everything you’ve done in business. Why will you be successful being an owner of an NHL team?

Answer: I’ve always trusted myself in finding the right people who work for me. I’ve got people who’ve been with me for 20, 25 years. You can’t succeed without good people working for you. I’m very confident we’re going to have people who will make the hockey team a success, both on and off the ice.

Question: Will you be a hands-on owner?

Answer: I will be involved with the decisions at every level. But does that mean I’m going to tell the coach who to play in goal that night? I don’t think so. But I want to get to know our players. I want guys who are going to represent the team and Las Vegas the right way. To that end, yes, I will be involved.

Off the ice, I’ve already been involved, meeting the fans, talking to them about what they want. That’s not going to change.

Contact Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow on Twitter: @stevecarprj

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