Tourist or local? Vegas’ strategy to have the NHL’s best home-ice advantage
LAS VEGAS — Late in the third period of the Vegas Golden Knights‘ first Stanley Cup playoff game, a message flashed on the video board at T-Mobile Arena asking fans to make noise depending on who they were.
Make noise if you’re male … make noise if you’re female. Make noise if you’re married … make noise if you’re single.
The roars from the crowd were fairly even for both — until it got to the last one.
Make noise if you’re a tourist … make noise if you’re a local.
There is perhaps no greater distinction for the residents of this city than “tourist or local.” After all, no city is as identified by its hotels and tourists as Las Vegas. Think of all the great Las Vegas-centric movies you have ever seen. From “The Hangover” to “Ocean’s Eleven,” there is a good chance the stars of the film were out-of-towners making bad decisions in Sin City. The sense from those who never venture off The Strip is that locals are simply comprised of card dealers and cocktail waitresses who buy their groceries at Caesars Palace and the Bellagio.
But Las Vegas is a real community with real locals and real families who live real lives far from the bright lights of South Las Vegas Blvd. — and that was on display during the Golden Knights’ first postseason win against the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday.
The highlight of a wild pre-game show at T-Mobile Arena saw the Golden Knights enter the ice through an enormous helmet fashioned after the team’s logo. Jeff Bottari/NHLI/Getty Images
Only two teams won more games at home than Vegas during the regular season, but despite playing in front of sold-out home crowds all season, the stands were often filled with as many (or more) fans from the visiting teams. Weekend games against the likes of Detroit, Boston, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Calgary led to The Strip and surrounding casinos being flooded with jerseys of the opposing team.
That was not the case Wednesday when The Park Las Vegas — an outdoor area lined with trees, waterfalls and restaurants that sits between the New York-New York and Park MGM hotels — was crowded with Golden Knights fans walking the pathway that leads directly to T-Mobile Arena. Outside the arena, Toshiba Plaza, a two-acre area in front of T-Mobile Arena, was filled with more Golden Knights fans getting free Golden Knights tattoos, wearing black and gold face paint, taking pictures with Vegas showgirls and dancing to a concert from Grammy-nominated rapper Logic.
This was a local party surprisingly devoid of Los Angeles fans, which was by design. The Golden Knights enrolled all their full-season-ticket holders in a program that prohibits them from reselling their playoff tickets on the secondary market. In exchange for vowing not to resell, the fans will pay less for tickets than fans who opt out. The team is calling the program the “Knights Vow.”
“We’re a destination city. During the regular season, it was a big part of our event experience. But the Stanley Cup playoffs, that’s a different time,” Vegas team president Kerry Bubolz told ESPN. “We want to do what we can to support the hockey side of our organization.”
The result Wednesday was a crowd of 18,479, the largest in team history, and perhaps the largest collection of local fans the team has had all season at a home game. While the team admits it will make less money with this strategy, it is a small price to pay for developing what could become one of the best home-ice advantages in the NHL during the postseason.
“I think that’s the loudest I’ve heard this building,” said Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. “It was rocking. There was great intensity right from the start. The atmosphere in the building was awesome.”
The on-ice pregame show included a battle scene seemingly out “Game of Thrones” as a Golden Knight slayed a King at center ice before Vegas players stormed through an oversized Golden Knights helmet lowered from the rafters as the crowd stood and waved towels. There have been some wild pregame ceremonies in hockey, but this was arguably the craziest.