Playing The Odds

Josh Egan Blog

How Vegas Accidently Became The Most Popular Team For Kids And New Comers

 

The Vegas Golden Knights took the league by storm. I remember when the NHL announced that they were expanding to Vegas. I thought “Wow that’s cool, it’ll be a fun thing to do on the side when in Vegas”. I remember when the expansion rules were announced and thought “Oh okay, they won’t be completely destroyed every game”. I also remember when they won their opening game off a two goal performance from James Neal. And I remember perhaps the most important moment in that team’s short history came when I was at the Toronto Marlies game. “The Golden Knights just won the game, they are moving on to the Stanley cup final” my friend said to me. I could not believe it, a first year expansion team had made the cup final and my Toronto Maple Leafs cannot even make it past the first round. Ever since that moment I have despised the Golden Knights, but there are two groups of hockey fans that they have connected with. Kids and new comers to the game of hockey. Why are they so popular with these demographics? Is it because they are this shiny new thing that did really well in their first year? Is it because the uniforms are unique? Is it because they got to connect with this team from the very beginning? Every single one of these fans will have a different answer, but let’s take a look at a couple of the main reasons why the Vegas Golden Knights are the most popular team for kids and new comers to the game.

 

They Are New

Everyone wants to be part of the new shiny thing. When Vegas was announced as the newest expansion team, there was a ton of mystique and hype behind it. It was something new and something exciting which people tend to gravitate towards. The lure of the Vegas team was there before they even had a player or a coach on the roster. The build up towards it was done in a way where everyone knew it was going to be big and it was going to be bold. In the months leading up to the expansion draft (another reason that this team was going to be exciting) the team signed a bunch of free agents that would be eligible to play in the NHL the following year. The first player they signed was Reid Duke. Reid Duke has still yet to play an NHL game, but he was signed by Vegas almost a whole seven months before they hit the ice. When they announced Dukes signing it was followed days and weeks of social media push from the Golden Knights, mainly led by him being the only player on a hockey team. But that’s what Vegas would do, every time they signed one of these free agents before they had an official roster, they would make a big deal out of it. It was new, it was exciting and it was different. Vegas followed a formula that Bill Daley had laid out from the beginning. The formula of making it big and making it bold worked well for them in the months leading up to their first ever game. Perhaps the most infamous example is their short lived twitter persona of being the cocky new guy that quickly got shut down when they let the social media manager go. They had a big jersey unveiling, they had a great attempt at a name reveal (technical difficulties got in the way of this one and made for a hilarious presentation that did not go to plan) and most importantly they reached out into the community to get new fans involved.

 

Fan Interaction

Vegas, pre Golden Knights, were not a hockey market. However, now they have the Golden Knights they have one of the best fan bases in the NHL. The team did a great job at the beginning reaching out and bringing in fan, not only from Vegas, but from outside the market as well. Their marketing and social outreach was something that no NHL team had attempted before, given Vegas was given a great opportunity being a new team. They ran charity events in Vegas, Learn to play hockey events and meet the team events (Once the team was named). It wasn’t just a one off either, they have maintained these events to this day and do a really good job of them. They invite fans to be a part of the team experience and make in enjoyable for everyone. Their tail gate parties in the playoff runs look amazing and they have tons of activity’s for the fans to take part in, mix that in with their pre-game shows before every game where the music is bumping and the in arena experiences is unmatched. The Golden Knights have embraced the culture of Las Vegas and used it to their advantage.

 

On Ice Product

There was a real chance that the Golden Knights were going to suck, let’s take a quick look back at previous expansion teams records courtesy of NHL.com

  • Panthers were 33-34-17 in 1993
  • Flyers were 31-32-11 in 1967
  • Blues were 27-31-16 in 1967
  • Blue Jackets were 28-39-9 in 2000
  • Islanders were 12-60-6 in 1972
  • Senators were 10-70-4 in 1992
  • Capitals were 8-67-5 in 1974

These are just some examples of what to expect an expansion team to do, with Florida doing the best with 83 points, which would not be enough to make the playoffs. However Vegas had an advantage over these other expansion teams, they were going to have altered expansion draft rules. The rules were in favour of making Vegas a competitive team on the ice. The expansion draft picks were announced on June 21st at the NHL awards and they got some really good players for a first year team. The whole idea was that they had the power to choose one unproteted player from each NHL team to build their own squad. Each team was allowed to protect the following…

  • Seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender
  • Eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goaltender

There were some more rules on players that had to be available or were not eligible for the draft but if you want to know those, go and look them up. Needless to say, Vegas was setup to have a very interesting group of players that had potential. Some of the big names they pulled in the expansion draft were Cody Eakin, Jonathan Marchessault, James Neal, Marc Methot and most notably Marc Andre Fleury. They had a good amount of talent, but people were still writing them off.  The on ice product proved to be strong and entertaining, they cruised their way to a playoff spot and eventually made it to the Stanley Cup final, losing to the Washington Capitals. That is a fantastic first season.

 

Success

The first season for Vegas was a success, they made it to the Stanley Cup final and then followed it up with another playoff run the next year. They are a good team and are successful on the ice. Excitement draws fans and but success keeps them. If Vegas had posted a sub 20 win record in their first year, would their fan base be as big and popular as it is now? Properly not. Vegas have been able to maintain their success by making roster moves, trades and constantly growing their off ice talent with scouts and skills trainers.

Vegas has found a formula to draw in fans, and their success as well as constant improvement, has helped keep those fans.

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