The arena follies are in full swing this week in Las Vegas.
However, before anyone ratchets Twitter up to Defcon 2 concerning NHL expansion, please note the key word here is follies. Especially where it concerns a ground-breaking ceremony held this week on the Las Vegas Strip for a second major arena.
Jackie Robinson – no not that one, this would be the former NBA journeyman who was a star at UNLV in the 1970s – held the ceremony to tip off his plans for a $1.4-billion (all currency U.S.) hotel and 22,000-seat arena with a retractable roof. Robinson says he hopes to attract an NBA franchise to the $690-million arena.
This shindig came the day before the chief financial officer for MGM Resorts International told the Las Vegas Review-Journal he had "preliminary" talks with a group that wants to bring an NHL team to Sin City. This is for the other big arena planned for downtown Vegas, although this one, a $350-million rink with 20,000 seats that is owned by MGM and AEG, Philip Anschutz's sports and entertainment conglomerate that also owns the Los Angeles Kings, is actually under construction.
The group was not named but discussions with those who follow such things in the NHL produced an interesting nugget about who was not involved in the talks. Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who has long been linked with expansion in Las Vegas as part of a group with former MGM chairman Harry Sloan and financier David Bonderman, is apparently no longer in the picture. He is said to have become preoccupied with other matters.
That leaves the Maloof family, the former owners of the NBA's Sacramento Kings, as the only group known to have expressed an interest in bringing the NHL to Las Vegas. But there have been discussions with other groups and the NHL, as league commissioner Gary Bettman likes to keep as many people as possible interested in order to keep potential expansion fees high.
Expansion is a long way off for the NHL despite the need to balance the Eastern Conference, which has 16 teams, with the Western Conference, which has 14. Plans for an arena in Seattle, the favourite expansion target for many NHL owners, have stalled because the fellow behind them has not been able to get an NBA team. Bettman is keeping an eye on Vegas because there is actually an arena under construction there but the NHL governors, not to mention potential owners, are split on the idea of heading to the desert.
Some think it is a good idea because the casinos will buy all the season tickets, luxury seats and club seats as treats for their high-rollers. Others say the seats might be sold but few will actually sit in them because people come to Vegas to gamble, not watch hockey. And there is the view the casinos will not be buying much because they do not like the idea of the pigeons spending three or four hours outside of their gambling dens.
Which brings us back to Robinson and his plans for a second arena and the NBA. Despite the fact he managed to get a bunch of his old basketball buddies such as Spencer Haywood and Reggie Theus, some local politicos and about 340 other people to show up for the party, there are a few details Robinson needs to work out to get more than a ceremonial shovel in the ground.
First is the land. He doesn't own any yet but according to the Review-Journal, Robinson has a lease on a parcel of land with an option to buy. Next would be an development agreement with the municipality, in this case Clark County. There is nothing in sight there, either.
Finally, there is the money. An investment banker says he has a letter of intent to help with the financing but there is no cash in the bank yet. Whoops.
But Vegas NBA fans should not despair. Robinson plans to raise $300-million from 600 foreign investors under the EB-5 visa program. This allows potential immigrants to get a conditional U.S. green card, the EB-5 visa, if they invest a minimum of $500,000 in a project in a rural or high-unemployment area (or $1-million elsewhere).
If that sounds familiar, it should. It was one of the methods Greg Jamison tried in his long, tortuous and ultimately failed bid to buy the Arizona Coyotes. Hey, maybe these foreign investors will consider a second arena in Las Vegas a better way to make money than buying into the NHL's biggest sinkhole.
Speaking of the Coyotes, a word needs to be said about Quebec, since we raised the topic of NHL expansion. Again, there is nothing on the horizon and Quebec is not mentioned when Bettman discusses expansion with the governors.
Quebec's only hope is to snag a relocated franchise as long as Bettman can add two franchises in the west to balance the conferences. And the Coyotes are no longer the favourite to relocate, at least not in the next couple of years, thanks to their recent sale.
That honour goes to the Florida Panthers, for a couple of reasons. One, they are already in the east and two, they are hemorrhaging money worse than the Coyotes.