When the NHL announced its newest expansion team would call Las Vegas home, there were mixed reviews in the hockey universe. How could hockey work in a city like Vegas, one that has never been home to a professional sports franchise (unless you count the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels of the late-1980s/early-1990’s a pro team, which may make sense if you saw what kind of cars the players drove to practice back then)?
And, yet, here the Vegas Golden Knights stand, three wins away from hoisting the Stanley Cup over their heads as they share a storybook journey with the city of Las Vegas and southern Nevada.
Critics of the move are now shoveling massive amounts of crow into their mouths this week as the Stanley Cup Final ratings totals for what has already been a monumentally successful inaugural campaign for the Golden Knights hit the wire. Both Games 1 and 2 scored record ratings for Las Vegas as well as NBC Sports, which aired Game 2 on its NBCSN network. The series opener delivered a 3.72 overnight rating, the highest for a Stanley Cup finals Game 1 since 2015, while Game 2 hit a three-year high with a 2.8 overnight rating.
Capitals-Golden Knights Game 2 overnights hit three-year high. Fifth-best SCF overnight ever on NBCSN.
24% decline from Game 1 is actually the smallest drop from NBC to NBCSN in several years: https://t.co/ZuV7x6OTro
— Sports Media Watch (@paulsen_smw) May 31, 2018
The Vegas market was even more impressive. It’s estimated roughly 44 percent of Las Vegas homes were tuned in to Game 1 on NBC and 19.8 percent tuned in for Wednesday evening’s broadcast on NBCSN. There was a 24 percent decline from Game 1 to Game 2, the smallest drop from NBC to NBCSN in several years.
So much for hockey drying out here in the desert. Yeah, but what about merchandise sales? According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Golden Knights have sold more merchandise this year than any other U.S.-based NHL franchise. So, in ‘Murica, the Golden Knights are kings.
It was almost as if southern Nevada didn’t have a population of 1.2 million-plus. Las Vegas has a population of roughly 633,000, which is somewhat small if it were the only market. It isn’t. I’d bet the rest of the nation slept on good old Henderson, which has another 300,000 or so residents. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Henderson and Vegas are basically the “boroughs” of Sin City. Spit one way or the other, and you might hit Vegas and you may hit Henderson. That close. Oh, and North Las Vegas? Another 239,000. Borough No. 3.
Oh, did I mention it is also the Entertainment Capital of the World? We take in about 40 million visitors every year, like clockwork. Somehow this didn’t qualify as “ready” to so many “experts.” Winnipeg, on the other hand, has roughly 705,000 residents. Seattle’s population? Also around 705,000. Quebec City? Maybe 532,000. Apparently experts don’t do math “too good.”
Here’s how I picture these “experts,” as they sit around, spewing out their “hot takes” over what is, I’m sure, some sort of pretentious dinner consisting of sea bass and caviar downed with a cool, quenching glass of ignorance.
Critics were lightning quick to criticize the move, second-guessing what was sound research by the NHL powers-that-be of a market absolutely thirsting for a major league sports team. “Quebec City,” they cried. “Seattle’s a better fit,” they whined (which worked, because Seattle is next on this NHL expansion train). In the heat of the moment, the hot takes abounded all over social media.
Las Vegas hockey team will flop so hard, if you're in Vegas you're not going to a hockey game
— alex (@Based_Sniper88) June 22, 2016
Maybe I'm wrong but I think NHL in Vegas just won't work out in the long hall. Not cuz gambling, just not a hockey market in the slightest
— Nicholas Work (@NicholasCWork) June 22, 2016
One of these yahoos even doubled down on it and took an even more extreme stance. This dude managed to lump the Golden Knights in with the Los Angeles Rams, who — despite playing in an ancient and decrepit Los Angeles Coliseum that seats 93,607 — brought in an average of more than 63,000 per game last season. It’s a double-victory for tweets that don’t age well.
— Patrick (@pjblake2) January 12, 2017
Contrary to what the interwebs expertise told us, deep down we all knew — here in Vegas — the Golden Knights would be a hot ticket, win or lose, this year. I mean, this is the city that managed to give comedian Jeff Beacher his own show at Hard Rock, with great success. If Tiny Kiss and a giant dancing sock monkey can sell out every night here, I’m going to go out on a limb and say NHL hockey, in a city more than ready for major league sports, can handle it too.
If not, maybe they’ll bring back Beacher’s Madhouse instead.