Eddie Rivkin The Hockey Writers
Winter Classic in Vegas? YES PLEASE
With another Winter Classic in the books, and the announcement that the 2021 game will be played in the State of Hockey, at Target Field in Minneapolis, the question is, where will the 2022 Winter Classic be played? The resounding answer in this article will be in the Entertainment Capital of the World – Las Vegas!
In order for that to happen, my adopted hometown will have to overcome some significant hurdles, have competing mega-companies cooperate and get the NHL to make a complete 180 on a policy regarding the Winter Classic. But fear not, this is Las Vegas, where ANYTHING you dream can become a reality.
Follow along while I detail why it will be difficult for Vegas to pull it off and then take you on a trip through the power players of the city and how it can and ultimately will happen.
Obstacles, Bumps & Hurdles
First, we’ll start with some of the things Vegas will have to overcome. First and foremost is this paraphrase from Steve Mayer, the NHL’s chief content officer and executive vice president, that as long as he’s running things, the Winter Classic will never be played in a stadium with a roof. Proof positive is that next year’s game will be at the 39,504-seat Target Field instead of 66,655-seat US Bank Stadium.
This comes on the heels of the second-largest crowd of 85,630 at the Cotton Bowl for the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators. If we are to take Mayer at his word and actions, that eliminates the $2 billion Death Star, I mean Allegiant Stadium, the new home of the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders. In most other cities without a venue, this would be the death knell. But this is Vegas we’re talking about. So obstacle one, where will they play the game?
If you haven’t noticed, Las Vegas is a little busy over the New Years’ holiday. Busy to the tune of 325,000 people from around the world filling the city to the brim and paying absolutely ridiculous prices to be here. From the highest of high rollers to the lowest of no rollers, Las Vegas is one of the busiest destinations in the world for New Years. Bump one, exorbitant prices in an already full city.
An important piece of the “maybe this isn’t going to happen” scenario is the incredible amount of cooperation that will be required by multi-billion dollar gaming companies in order to host the Winter Classic. Rather than go into great detail explaining this, I will end this article with a step-by-step and who-by-who it will take. Hurdle No. 1 is the complicated relationship between competing companies that will be required.
The last major issue facing Las Vegas’ chance to host the Winter is cold hard cash. The NHL uses the Winter Classic as a huge source of revenue. Las Vegas will surely be handicapped in the potential revenue from attendance. With the largest attendance ever at an NHL game being the 2014 Winter Classic at The Big House in Ann Arbor 105,491, there is nothing remotely close to that available in Las Vegas.
In order to woo the Winter Classic to Las Vegas, there will have to be a ton of ancillary revenue-generating programming in addition to the game itself.
The Case for Yes Please
While there are definitely significant issues for Las Vegas to overcome in order to host the Winter Classic, they are all pretty easily doable. This section will highlight some of the most important reasons why the game belongs here.
No City Throws a Party like Las Vegas
With, give or take, 145,000 hotel rooms in Las Vegas, and venues ranging from 100 to the new Allegiant Stadium seating 65,000 plus, Las Vegas is uniquely capable of hosting a myriad of Winter Classic-related parties, celebrations and fan-friendly events. In addition, the Las Vegas Convention Center has nearly 4.5 million square feet of available space.
The restaurant, nightlife and entertainment scene in Las Vegas is unparalleled anywhere in the world. Las Vegas will be able to easily program more than enough events to make up for the shortcoming of revenue from ticket sales.
The Best Rivalry in the NHL, the San Jose Sharks
The NHL has stated repeatedly and proved with its scheduling that the Winter Classic has to be a rivalry game. Whether it be geographical or historical, every year’s Winter Classic has built-in buzz. With the exception of Original Six games, is there a better rivalry in the NHL than the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks?
Though the series is only two and a half years old, the Golden Knights and Sharks have developed a true hatred for each other. Standings don’t matter in this rivalry – every time the play, it’s a powder keg ready to blow, especially with two of the toughest and best chirpers in the game, Ryan Reaves and Evander Kane, in the lineups.
And let’s not forget the Golden Knights (in a hugely unpopular move) recently fired head coach Gerard Gallant and replaced him with recently fired coach and Enemy No. 1 Pete DeBoer from the Sharks.
Here’s how Vegas Will Land the Winter Classic
OK, now the fun part! How is Vegas going to pull off overcoming the huge obstacle of having no venue to host the Winter Classic? The answer is easy! Las Vegas will just build one.
A little history on the subject. Back in the dark ages of the 1970s and 1980s, Caesars Palace regularly constructed a 15,000-seat arena behind the pool to host legendary boxing matches. And in fact, there has already been an outdoor game in Las Vegas. On Sep. 27, 1991, Caesars Palace built a rink over the front parking lot for a preseason game between the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings. It was a wonderful night in Vegas as we all got to watch an NHL game in our shorts and t-shirts!
For a Winter Classic, it will be a bit more complicated. MGM Resorts, led by CEO Jim Murren, recently sold Circus Circus and the 37 acre Las Vegas Festival Grounds to billionaire Phil Ruffin, who previously purchased the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino from MGM Resorts.
MGM Resorts is also a 50/50 partner with AEG on the T-Mobile Arena, home of the Golden Knights. Since the Festival Grounds has yet to be renovated, a simple call between Mr. Murren and Mr. Ruffin to use the Festival Grounds for the Winter Classic is all it should take.
The 37 acre Las Vegas Festival Grounds has been host to Rock in Rio USA and a number of other major festivals. The space is more than adequate in size to construct a one-time use, 35,000-seat outdoor arena to host the Winter Classic.
With the average winter high temperature in Las Vegas being 56 degrees, simply moving the game to a 4:00 P.M. local time puck drop will completely eliminate any weather concerns for the game.
Vegas Is Perfect for a Winter Classic
So, there you have it, an honest look at the issues Las Vegas would have in hosting a Winter Classic game and the real solutions to make it happen. Throw in everything that the Golden Knights have meant to the city of Las Vegas, and the impact the Golden Knights have had since that magical run to the Stanley Cup Final, and Las Vegas is the perfect host city for a Winter Classic.
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