Monday, 24 February 2014

Uniquely Las Vegas

Las Vegas has always been on the radar of the NHL, if you ask some with insider information. It has played host to several NHL exhibition games, but it has always had a main hockey tenant in the ECHL's Las Vegas Wranglers. The Wranglers, for all they've done in the city, always seem to be forgotten despite having between 4800 and 5000 people show up for games. With today's news that the Wranglers would be moving their games to the top of the Plaza Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, hockey will reach new heights in Sin City and make the Wranglers' ECHL games something entirely unique in hockey.

According to reports, the Plaza Hotel and Casino just finished a $35 million dollar renovation in 2011 that saw the hotel build new guestrooms and suites, a remodeled casino floor and lobby, and new restaurants, bars and entertainment options. While a hockey arena or hockey venue wasn't on the list of renovations, you can add that to the list of "new entertainment options" available at the Plaza starting next season!

"The Wranglers have been a prized sports team in Southern Nevada for many years, drawing loyal fans from throughout the valley. We can't imagine our community without them, and so we're pleased that we can play a role in keeping them in Las Vegas by providing them with a home at the Plaza," said Jonathan Jossel, managing director of Tamares Group, parent company of the Plaza, in a statement.

Now you might be asking yourself, after reading Mr. Jossel's statement, how did this come to be? How is it that an established ECHL team is moving to the roof of one of Las Vegas' iconic hotels and casinos instead of playing in a hockey rink?

Wranglers President Billy Johnson and Wranglers owner Gary Jacobs confirmed to the Las Vegas Sun on New Year's Eve that Boyd Gaming, who run Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, were not going to renew the agreement they held with the Wranglers, putting the team in a bit of a bind in not having a home for the 2014-15 season. Boyd Gaming issued their decision on December 14, 2013, putting the team's future in Las Vegas in question.

"They said we were not financially viable," Johnson told John Katsilometes of the Las Vegas Sun, who added that the signage around the Orleans Arena promoting the team had been stripped from the property in the early summer. "But they didn’t tell us formally until just before the holiday season."

Personally, it sounds like Boyd Gaming wants some of those 36 nights of home games back for events. I understand the competitiveness in Las Vegas to have big acts roll through casinos, and perhaps the management of the Orleans Hotel and Casino think they can attract some of those acts by having a 7000-seat available for weekend nights now. That's entirely within their right as the owners of the arena, and they can make the decision to try to attract big acts to fill that arena.

The Wranglers, having developed a solid following in Sin City over its eleven-year existence, went searching for a new home in Las Vegas, striking up conversations with various casinos and resorts in and around the city, before striking an agreement with the Plaza Hotel and Casino. But they don't have an arena, so the Wranglers needed to be a little creative.

The Wranglers will build a facility in a lease agreement with the Plaza that will seat apparoximately 3500 fans. Of course, designs can change, but that's the initial idea. This new rink will be built on the fifth-level pool and event deck on existing space connecting the two hotel towers. It appears the rink will be surrounded by "a fabric shell on a metal structure - a heavily reinforced tent, if you will" that will house not only the hockey team, but be a multipurpose facility that will allow the Wranglers the freedom to book other attractions at the tent-arena.

In other words, the Wranglers will enter the five-year agreement with the Plaza on a space lease agreement, and the partnership would see all visiting teams stay at the Plaza, and any shows that the Wranglers book would have a hotel suitable for both the act to stay at and any fans that may want to see the show. There is still some debate on parking and any associated fees that may be imposed there for hockey fans, but it sounds like both the Wranglers and the Plaza are happy with this partnership.

"We believe that this partnership will be good for the Wranglers, good for the fans and good for downtown," Jossel added in his statement. "We are looking forward to working with the Wranglers and their management and to providing more detailed information in the coming weeks and months."

"We're really looking forward to being part of the energy downtown and having a meaningful presence on Fremont Street," Johnson told Katsilometes in a phone conversation today. "We have a venue that is suitable for a professional hockey team and will serve our fans very well."

For a team that is averaging about 5000 fans, it sounds like Wranglers hockey might be one of the more difficult tickets to get next season in their 3500-seat facility. Hockey, though, is moving to Fremont Street as part of the Fremont Street Experience, and, from all I've gathered, Wranglers hockey is one heckuvan experience! And it may very well be one that I take in live next season!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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