By ALAN SNEL
Not only are the Vegas Golden Knights off to a red-hot start with four wins in their first five games, but owner Bill Foley said merchandise, sponsorship and ticket revenues are trending above projections and he envisions a profitable first season before the deduction of interest, taxes and amortization expenses.
In an interview with LVSportsBiz.com at the Golden Knights’ Summerlin headquarters today, Foley said sponsorship sales are 10-12 percent above the budgeted level and the team is “overachieving in ticket sales.”
“Game day ticket sales are higher than expected,” Foley said.
He gave an example of high game-day ticket sales with the Golden Knights-Detroit Red Wings game Friday when the team was selling game-day tickets at an average price of $170 per ticket. Foley noted the average game-day ticket in the NHL is 40 percent of that $170 price.
“That shows you the level of demand for tickets,” Foley said.
Foley said the Golden Knights sell about 2,500 game-day tickets after 13,400 seats are committed for season ticket holders, 850 are for premium seats and there a few hundred for comp tickets. Plus, the team can sell another 300 standing room only tickets, Foley said.
With T-Mobile Arena’s hockey capacity at about 17,300, the Golden Knights are above 100 percent attendance capacity after three home games in light of the trio of sellouts.
Foley did notice the abundance of Red Wings and Bruins fans during the Friday and Sunday games. He said as the Golden Knights become more established — and if they continue to win — those fans with opposition jerseys will be replaced by fans wearing the steel gray, black and gold of the home team.
The Golden Knights cannot control season ticketholders from unloading their tickets or StubHub from selling VGK tickets on the secondary market to non-Golden Knights fans. But to try and stop too many non-Golden Knights fans from buying tickets, the team will not sell tickets to buyers who are brokers, Foley said.
“I’d rather see empty seats than so many Red Wings jerseys,” Foley said.
The team is on schedule to make money on its merchandise sales. It budgeted $10 million in team logo gear sales the first year, which meant the Golden Knights would keep $4 million of the $10 million in overall sales, Foley said.
“The merchandise sales are going well above budget,” Foley said. He noted the team is looking to open Golden Knights points of sale up and down the Strip, including in MGM Resorts International properties after opening a sales kiosk at McCarran International Airport last week.
He said not every sale has to be a $180 authentic jersey. Foley said he’ll be pleased with a Golden Knights cap being bought for 35 bucks. “They’re wearing my hat in another place.”
Foley said the team budgeted $2.5 million in kept merchandise revenue sales for next year, but he foresees the Golden Knights going above that number, too.
“We developed a conservative business plan. I didn’t want to write $20 million checks every year (to cover losses),” Foley said.
Foley is pleased with the in-game entertainment features and likes the pre-game sword ceremony where a Golden Knight character vanquishes the opponent. That’s sticking around, he said.
Foley said he’s setting his sights on making the Golden Knights an international brand in light of the 42 million visitors, including many from outside the U.S., flowing into the Las Vegas market every year. He noted hockey fans across the U.S. in places from New England to Chicago to Minnesota to Montana are already identifying their allegiances to the Golden Knights brand, and he wants people in Shanghai, for example, to wear his team’s jersey after visiting Las Vegas.
He also said the Golden Knights brand can have appeal all across Europe, and not just in the United Kingdom. “You had jousting all over Europe. It wasn’t just in the UK. You had knights all over in France and Italy,” Foley said.
While local Las Vegas fans with Cox cable TV grew worried that Golden Knights games would not be on their local cable system, Cox was able to reach a deal with Golden Knights TV rights holder, ATT SportsNet, on the day of the team’s season-opener in Dallas Oct. 6. Foley said the team has the biggest geographic broadcast rights region in the NHL and re-iterated his commitment to making the Golden Knights brand the hockey leader in the Rockies.
“I know in Montana we’re the team of Montana. They don’t root for the Kings or the Ducks and they don’t even like people from California,” Foley said.
Foley said it’s important the character of the team’s players reflect the Golden Knights brand, which meant “we didn’t want anyone who would be disruptive.” He said the team salary total is $69 million, but Foley noted it’s actually in the low $60s million after insurance payments.
He was proud of the way the Golden Knights players responded to the shooting massacre on the Strip Oct. 1 when a shooter killed 58 and injured more than 500 country music concert fans at an outdoor festival site on the Strip.
“The team began feeding off the city,” Foley said. “And then the city began feeding off the team. We became Las Vegas’ team.”
Contact LVSportsBiz.com founder/writer Alan Snel at @LVSportsBiz.com