Bill Foley was a fixture in the Golden Knights’ locker room after almost every home victory, shaking hands and offering congratulations before he sat down with the coaches for a beer.
The majority owner also regularly joined the team for lunch after practices at City National Arena. Foley relished the opportunity to chat in the buffet line about family and develop more of a personal relationship.
“That was a highlight,” Foley said. “I haven’t been able to do that for a year.”
Foley’s exclusion from having contact with players and coaches, as designated by the NHL’s COVID protocols, is another reminder of how much has changed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Friday marks one year since the league paused its regular season, and Foley took time this week to reflect on the pandemic’s devastating effects.
“Our whole mantra, our place in the Las Vegas world is about our team and the community, being involved with the community and having the community come to the games and support the team,” Foley said. “It’s been really pretty depressing not being able to socialize, not to be able to be around the fans.”
The Knights were in Minnesota on March 11, 2020, preparing for a game against the Wild the next day when the sports world stopped. Foley, like many around the league, believed the pause would last two or three weeks at the most.
Five months later, the NHL completed the postseason while isolated from the public in Edmonton, Alberta, and Toronto.
This season features a condensed, 56-game schedule with a revised playoff format and strict health and safety protocols.
“It’s been interesting. That’s probably the best word to put for it,” Knights alternate captain Reilly Smith said of the past year.
Foley said the Knights avoided severe financial hardship during the pandemic by raising $50 million from a capital call with his business partners. He also said the NHL advanced teams approximately $30 million to help cover expenses.
Last year, the organization provided more than $500,000 in financial assistance to part-time staff at T-Mobile Arena and its own part-time employees after the final four regular-season home games were canceled.
“I always think back to the people that work at T-Mobile, and they’ve all been out of work for a year,” Foley said. “I went to a game, and I went to stand at the front where we come in. Three of the workers were there, and they were working and they all said, ‘Thanks so much for helping us out.’ ”
The Knights were approved Thursday to have 20 percent occupancy at T-Mobile Arena, approximately 3,500 fans, beginning with their next home game Monday against the San Jose Sharks.
According to Foley, the Knights’ normal game-day revenue during the regular season is about $2 million per game. With attendance capped at 15 percent capacity for the first two home games this month, game-day revenue was around $600,000, he said.
Foley was optimistic that T-Mobile Arena would be at 50 percent capacity by the end of the regular season and could slowly increase throughout the playoffs, depending on how far the Knights advance.
The league is aiming to have full arenas for the start of the 2021-22 season.
“From a hockey standpoint, it’s great that we’re winning and we’ve done well and we’ve made some improvements, but tough, tough year,” Foley said. “It’s been difficult, but that’s part of what you do in business. You have to weather the tough times to get ready for the good times.”
What: Golden Knights at Blues
When: 5 p.m. Friday
Where: Enterprise Center, St. Louis
TV: AT&T Sports Net (Cox 313/1313, DirecTV 684, CenturyLink 760/1760, U-verse 757/1757, Dish 414/5414)
Radio: KKGK (98.9 FM, 1340 AM)
Line: Knights -135; total 5½