Las Vegas lands expansion franchise as NHL adds 31st team

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NHL approves Las Vegas expansion team for 2017-18 season

The National Hockey League decided on Wednesday to roll the dice on expanding to Las Vegas, making the league the first to put a major professional sports team in the resort city known primarily for gambling.

The unanimous decision to award a 31st franchise, which required approval from a two-thirds majority of the owners, was announced by Commissioner Gary Bettman and marks the first expansion since 2000 when Columbus and Minnesota began play.

Bettman also said the board decided to defer Quebec City's application for expansion due in large part to the volatility of the Canadian dollar.

"We think this is a tremendously exciting opportunity not just for Las Vegas but for the league as well," Bettman told news conference in Las Vegas.

"This expansion comes at a time when our league is more competitive than ever, ownership is stronger than ever, the talent base is more talented than ever and the business and future opportunities for the business are greater than ever."

The Vegas team, which will begin play in the 2017-18 NHL season, is being headed by billionaire businessman Bill Foley, who is the chairman of U.S. title insurance services provider Fidelity National Financial.

Foley, who is gambling a $500 million franchise fee that Las Vegas will support an NHL team, got plenty of interest when a ticket drive launched last year secured over 14,000 season-ticket deposits.

"Well Las Vegas we did it. Wasn't easy was it?" said Foley. "Our great sports town now has a major league franchise, the NHL.

"I played hockey as a kid in Canada, called shinny hockey on the ponds, I want all of our kids here in Las Vegas to enjoy hockey the way I enjoyed it."

The yet-to-be named team will play out of the T-Mobile Arena, a sparkling new multipurpose building on the south end of the famous Las Vegas Strip that can seat 17,500 for hockey.

The average NHL team is worth $505 million, according to a survey released by Forbes last November.

The long term viability of a major sports team in Southern Nevada has long been a topic of debate with casinos along the Las Vegas Strip offering stiff competition with entertainment acts ranging from Britney Spears to David Copperfield.

While Las Vegas is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, it is also a growing city with a population of over 2 million in the metropolitan area viewed by many as a lucrative sports market waiting to be tapped.

But building a local fan base in non-traditional hockey markets can be difficult as the Arizona Coyotes, often the subject of relocation talk, continue to struggle.

The NHL could soon also face fierce competition for the sports dollar with the National Football League's Oakland Raiders reportedly considering relocation to Las Vegas.

For the moment, the NHL considers Las Vegas to be the safer bet than Quebec City as the Canadian city's bid is being put on hold for now.

Las Vegas and Quebec City, which has not had an NHL team since the Nordiques left for Denver and became the Colorado Avalanche in 1995, both submitted expansion bids last July.

But a weak Canadian dollar was considered the key obstacle standing in the way of prospective ownership group Quebecor Inc landing a team.

"There is no doubt as to the passion for hockey, particularly NHL hockey in Quebec City," said Bettman.

"The decision to defer was based on elements over which the Quebec City group had no control over whatsoever, significantly the fluctuation of the Canadian dollar, including its decline to a low of 68 (U.S.) cents earlier this year."

Canada's seven NHL teams earn ticket and concession revenue in Canadian dollars while salaries, which account for half of the league's hockey-related revenue, are paid in U.S. dollars.

But Quebecor chief executive Pierre Dion said he remains committed to bringing an NHL team back to Quebec City and will continue a dialogue with the league.

"Bringing the Nordiques back to Quebec City remains a priority for Quebecor," said Dion. "We will continue to work with determination to achieve this goal."

NHL PHOTOS OF THE YEAR:

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NHL photos of the year
GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 11: Sam Gagner #9 of the Arizona Coyotes skates out onto the ice before the NHL game against the Anaheim Ducks at Gila River Arena on April 11, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Los Angeles Kings left wing Tanner Pearson, right, tries to score on Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, in Los Angeles. The Kings won 3-1. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson (9) is tripped by Calgary Flames defenseman Kris Russell after getting off a pass during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) and Patric Hornqvist (72) try to get to a loose puck in front of Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk (40) with Jared Spurgeon (46) defending during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015. The Penguins won 4-3. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
New Jersey Devils defenseman Eric Gelinas (44) checks New York Rangers left wing Chris Kreider during the second period of an NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
Boston Bruins left wing David Pastrnak gives his stick to a young fan as he was named "No. 1 star of the game" after the Bruins' NHL hockey game against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Boston, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015. The Bruins won 4-3. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 01: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals celebrates after scoring a first period goal against the Chicago Blackhawks during the 2015 NHL Winter Classic at Nationals Park on January 1, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene, right, watches the puck and his part of his stick fly through the air during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Los Angeles Kings, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
The puck, shot by New York Rangers center Derek Stepan (21) gets past Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby (70) for the winning goal in overtime of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals during the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs, Wednesday, May 13, 2015, in New York. The Rangers won 2-1. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Chicago Blackhawks center Andrew Shaw (65) scores past Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop during the second period in Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Final on Saturday, June 6, 2015, in Tampa Fla. (Bruce Bennett/Pool Photo via AP)
Chicago Blackhawks' Niklas Hjalmarsson skates out to center ice with the Stanley Cup during the championship banner raising ceremony before an NHL hockey game between the Blackhawks and the New York Rangers, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Columbus Blue Jackets' Marko Dano (56) dives for the puck past Philadelphia Flyers' Jakub Voracek (93), of the Czech Republic, during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015, in Philadelphia. Columbus won 5-2. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
BOSTON, MA - MARCH 28: Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers allows a goal by Milan Lucic #17 of the Boston Bruins in the first period at the TD Garden on March 28, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 02: Devante Smith-Pelly #21 of the Montreal Canadiens is checked into the glass by Brenden Dillon #4 of the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on March 2, 2015 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov (1), of Russia, watches the puck as Minnesota Wild center Ryan Carter (18) chases it during the first period of an NHL hockey game in St. Paul, Minn., Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
Dallas Stars left wing Antoine Roussel (21) bats the puck as he is guarded by Florida Panthers defenseman Willie Mitchell (33) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015 in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
UNIONDALE, NY - MARCH 29: Tyler Kennedy #26 of the New York Islanders skates in warm-ups prior to the game against the Detroit Red Wings at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on March 29, 2015 in Uniondale, New York. The Islanders defeated the Red Wings 5-4. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Anaheim Ducks right wing Chris Wagner (62) knocks Dallas Stars' Jamie Oleksiak into the team bench as Vernon Fiddler (38), Jordie Benn (24), John Klingberg (3) react in the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 4-3. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
San Jose Sharks defenseman Paul Martin (7) reaches for the puck against Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov (92), of Russia, during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
UNIONDALE, NY - APRIL 11: The New York Islanders and the Columbus Blue Jackets take the opening faceoff in their game at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on April 11, 2015 in Uniondale, New York. This is the last regular season game to be played in the building as it stands now. The team will relocate to the Barclay's Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York City starting in the 2015-16 season. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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