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Golden Knights owner takes calculated risky by bringing hockey to desert

There is a belief some hold about Bill Foley that might surprise you, that he is the business world’s equal to Brett Favre scrambling from pressure, a billionaire gunslinger who writes checks before analyzing the purchase, who chucks his financial support into countless ventures before fastidiously surveying the entire field.

Who might see the double-coverage that would cause others to check down but really doesn’t give a damn.

Foley prefers another portrayal of his acumen: that he is instead a value buyer who takes calculated risks, who has grown his many companies by obtaining them at their lowest points and then building them into great success stories over time.

“Some people think I’m a bottom-dweller, that I’m too cheap and swimming around the ocean floor grabbing as many little crabs as I can,” Foley said. “It’s not true. I like value. I like things that can really be improved.”

Is there a better example, then, of something that begins with no history at all?

He had never before swum in this part of the ocean, near its floor or otherwise, before emerging as the man who would bring Las Vegas its first major league professional sports team in the form of an NHL expansion franchise.

It made sense that the inception of such a level of sports in Southern Nevada would begin with hockey, always thought to be the ideal test model for whether the town could support such a venture over time.

Reason being,

If such an untapped market without a deep, rich hockey tradition and one that would rely on a tourism base to purchase its share of tickets could make it work, other leagues like the NFL and NBA wouldn’t hesitate to follow.

Already, without a puck having been dropped for real inside T-Mobile Arena, the Raiders have made such plans.

In terms of hockey, the irony of such a historic move is not lost on those closest to Foley, an admitted recluse who isn’t big on large groups or glad-handing others as a way to inspire them. The chairman of Fidelity National Financial is all about commitment and drive and determination, not so much about giving speeches or being front-and-center when the cameras turn on.

But when the Golden Knights open their inaugural season in Dallas on Friday night, the journey that began with Foley gauging local interest with a season ticket drive in February 2015 will have come full circle.

Las Vegas will never be the same, having arrived to a place on the global sports map it never knew.

“I’ve been approached with other opportunities as a minority owner in sports, but always felt like I should be in the front of the plane and not the back when it comes to this,” Foley said. “From the minute we got the franchise, I was all in. That’s why we moved to Las Vegas. We’re embedded here now. I’m not going to be an absentee owner. I believe that if I can bring my business instincts and my knowledge of business to this franchise, we will be one of the best hockey clubs in terms of how things are run.

“I also believe we can have a very strong, competitive team.”

The latter would be proven over time.

Perhaps a very long time.

Of the nine teams added to the NHL between 1991-2001, the Florida Panthers had the best inaugural season at 33-34-17 in 1993. But it also took Philadelphia just six years to go from expansion side in 1967 to Stanley Cup champion, a timeline Foley has publicly stated as a goal for the Knights to match.

That’s probably a best-case scenario — even a stretch for one — and Foley knows it. But while some in his world of finance might consider him that 72-year old gunslinger, a $500 million expansion fee and the millions more he has and will continue to pour into his franchise hardly speaks of someone who will try and win on the cheap.

“My budget will be the salary cap,” he said. “We will sign those free agents along the way that are needed to help the core group of players we will build our team with through the draft. I absolutely will spend the money needed to win.”

On the day NHL owners voted in favor of adding a 31st team, the culmination of a 2½-year pursuit by a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, Foley talked most about community and his franchise being a major extension of how Las Vegas now would be perceived. He promised the team would be dedicated, focused and taking no prisoners.

That it would produce early success.

That it was more personal for him than any of his business ventures.

At its inception, the Vegas Golden Knights was a mere dream for the guy who some believe swims at the bottom of the ocean when pursuing interests.

This time, it turns out, he snagged one hell of a crab.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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