By Marc Atchison
Travelife Editor In Chief
Skeptics think the National Hockey League rolled the dice and took a big gamble by putting a franchise — the Golden Knights — in this town where betting was the only contact sport in the past. Locals, however, disagree. In fact, many say the NHL’s success in Las Vegas is a sure bet.
“I can’t wait for the NHL games to begin,” says Darren, a security guard at the T-Mobile Arena where the Golden Knights will play their home games.
“We’re all so excited about the NHL coming. Even people from other cities are excited. I had four couples from Canada come up to me today and tell me they’ll plan their next visit to Vegas when their NHL teams come to town to play the Knights.”
Another security guard I meet stationed at an open-air ice-skating rink in front of T-Mobile Arena agrees with Darren. “I’m originally from Chicago and can’t wait until the Black Hawks come to town,” says the man, adding that “over 14,000 people have committed to buying season tickets. That shows you how serious the people of Vegas are about the NHL.”
Even though the Golden Knights are expected to field a competitive team thanks to a more equal expansion draft — that’s what you get when you pay $500 million U.S. in franchise fees — the Knights still won’t do very well in their first few years of operation. Get ready for lots of “Last Vegas” headlines!
Suffice it to say, the only star of this franchise for the moment is the T-Mobile Arena. In fact, the glitzy state-of-the-art facility, located just a few steps off Las Vegas’ iconic Strip, is already the “Most Valuable Arena” in the NHL.
Built by MGM Resorts International, which owns and operates 45 per cent of the hotels and casinos along the Vegas Strip, the 650,000-square-foot, $500 million T-Mobile Arena is the most technically advanced in the world and, since opening in April 2016, has become one of the most lucrative.
In the first few months of operation, for instance, the fabulous T-Mobile, which can seat 17,500 for hockey and 20,000 for concerts, turned over the highest revenue for a venue of its type in the world.
While MGM has no financial stake in the hockey team, the company has invested heavily in developing an area surrounding the arena known as The Park. A spillover casino parking lot was used to create the lovely six-acre Park, which separates T-Mobile Arena from a 5,000-seat limited-engagement theatre — The Park Theatre — and a plaza featuring five upscale restaurants.
Known as “The Neighbourhood” by some locals, The Park has become a great place for people living in Vegas to chill out.
While primarily built for hockey and basketball, T-Mobile will also be used for large concerts and big shows like Cirque du Soleil.
One thing for sure, there will be no gambling in T-Mobile, according to officials. However, there will be many other attractions to keep fans entertained.
For instance, do you know of any other arena in the world that has it’s own mixologist? Well, T-Mobile does. And not just any mixologist. T-Mobile adult beverages will be designed by Tony Abou-Ganim, Mandalay Bay’s top mixologist who’s gained global fame for his creative cocktails.
Tony designed one special cocktail for T-Mobile Arena that he’s called Atomic Fizz. The colour? Magenta, just like T-Mobile’s corporate logo. You can bet this drink will be served over ice.
Locals seemed most thrilled that T-Mobile will also be the first arena in North America with a Shake Shack, the New York City burger bar that is one of the most talked about chains in the fast-food world.
While T-Mobile features 44 luxury and party suites and eight ice-level party suites, the most coveted seats will be the ones located high above ice level in an area known as Hyde Park, which will be open before and after games. However, if you want to sit there, you’ll have to purchase a ticket, pending the event. The upper bowl club-style lounge can hold up to 800 people — mostly high rollers and celebrities.
There will never be a dull moment during Knights’ game — that’s because fans will be treated to lots of Vegas-style bling thanks to the arena’s state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems. There are giant LED screens inside and outside T-Mobile and there’s lots of light shows being planned, as well.
With so many showgirls in Las Vegas, you can bet the Knights will have the best cheerleaders in the NHL. The Knights better hope they keep visiting teams distracted. Because T-Mobile is sandwiched between New York, New York and Aria, two of the biggest casino hotels on the Strip, one might think that the hockey team is counting heavily on visitors to buy tickets. Think again.
“The arena will be a place for locals to get away from their casino jobs and escape to the normal world of sports,” says Rupert King, a Vermont transplant and manager of the Beerhaus, one of the five restaurants in The Park.
“And besides, things have really changed in Las Vegas over the past five years,” says King.
The manager is right. According to data released by the casinos, gambling now accounts for just 30 per cent of Vegas’ revenues — down from 70 per cent five years ago.
“Trends have completely flipped and now 70 per cent of visitors to Vegas come for experiences like fine dining, shows or shopping while just 30 per cent come to gamble. Now they can add hockey to their Vegas experience,” he says.
Toshiba Plaza, just outside T-Mobile, is where hockey fans will gather for tailgate-type parties before and after games. There will be food trucks to feed them and lots of entertainment on the big (LED) screen to keep them happy.
The centrepiece of The Park is a massive 15-metre-high sculpture known as Bliss Dance, which celebrates the strength of women. Over 200 natural trees were also planted in The Park, making it a true desert oasis.
“As soon as the Knights were named, I featured their logo on all the TVs in our restaurant,” says King, who, despite being from the Northeast, admits he’s not a big hockey fan. “But I’m really anxious for the Golden Knights to start playing because Las Vegas is overdue for a professional sports franchise.”
Maybe, despite all the skeptics, the NHL really has hit the jackpot by coming to Las Vegas.