Two things we knew for certain about the Vegas Golden Knights heading into their inaugural season: 1. They were going to struggle, because, well, that’s what expansion teams do; and 2. After an initial surge of interest, support for our city’s first major professional sports franchise would taper off, especially as all those inevitable losses mounted.
But a funny thing happened on the Knights’ way to NHL ignominy: A cast of castoffs gelled and began winning like no other expansion team in sports history. It started on opening night—a 2-1 come-from-behind victory in Dallas—and it never really stopped.
Along the way, this community came down with a serious case of VGK fever. We saw it in grocery stores and gas stations, in schools and office buildings, in restaurants and bars—with each passing month, the number of locals proudly sporting Golden Knights gear seemed to grow tenfold. And to be certain, it cast a wide net: men, women, children, seniors—you name it, they had it. It even spread beyond Southern Nevada’s borders, as evidenced by this statistic: The Knights rank No. 1 among NHL teams in jersey sales. Ditto for caps.
We also saw it at T-Mobile Arena, where as of late March, the Knights were averaging 18,011 fans per game—in a venue whose fixed seating capacity for hockey games is 17,367. Meaning, on average, nearly 650 fans stood on their feet for the entirety of a two-and-a-half-hour game.
Of course, we knew early on that demand for Knights tickets would surpass supply, with fans drawn purely by the novelty of Vegas finally becoming a big-league city. It was just assumed that, come late in the season when the Knights were playing out the string, tickets would be easy to come by—and likely at a reduced price. Wrong.
For instance, rewind to March 20, when the Knights hosted the woeful Vancouver Canucks—a team already eliminated from playoff contention and one Vegas had previously pummeled twice. Even so, only 42 tickets (priced between $90-$300) were available that day through the team’s official website. And this was at 10:30 a.m., some nine hours before the puck dropped. On a Tuesday.
With tickets difficult to come by through traditional means, most fans were left to turn to secondary-ticket sites. Yet that was hardly a buyer’s market—even on the morning of that Knights-Canucks contest, StubHub had just 1,150 tickets available. And the cheapest were selling for $65—for seats closer to T-Mobile’s roof than the ice.
Thankfully, no tickets were required to watch the Knights sharpen their skills at City National Arena, the Summerlin facility where the team held morning skates before overflow crowds admitted free of charge. Tickets also weren’t needed at local watering holes, many of which hosted organically grown game-night viewing parties. Which leads to yet another example of VGK fever running wild: During the fall, when Knights games overlapped with the NFL, some establishments pulled the plug on the pigskin. And those that didn’t flip the channel as a matter of common practice did so at the urging of fans.
Besides draping themselves in Knights gear, digging deep into their pockets for game tickets and attending viewing parties, fans showed their loyalty in one other respect: by consistently wagering on the home team. Thanks to the Knights, Nevada sports books experienced a huge spike in NHL betting handle this season. They also saw a huge spike in NHL payouts, their profit-loss ledger taking a beating with each passing Vegas victory.
The good news for bookmakers: They’ll get a chance to balance their books when the NHL’s second season commences next week. Certainly, the odds will be in their favor, because the only thing more improbable than the Knights’ historic regular season would be a deep playoff run.
Then again, the greatest expansion team in history spent its first six months defying the odds. Who in their right mind would bet against it continuing? Answer: Not many people in this town, that’s for sure.