By ALAN SNEL
He hangs out with the hockey players at breakfast. He comes down to the locker room after games to shake their hands. He’s given them limited-edition wine from his vineyards for Christmas, two free car washes a week and even free shows at T-Mobile Arena.
Bill Foley just might be the most popular team owner in the National Hockey League. And the Golden Knights owner, who turned 73 a week ago, is just a rookie at owning a professional major-league team, too.
“He’s the most visible owner I’ve seen. He visits the weight room. He congratulates us after wins,” Golden Knights defenseman Jon Merrill told LVSportsBiz.com ater today’s practice at City National Arena.
“I really appreciate his presence,” Merrill said. “He lives and breathes this. It’s nice to see. Some owners are like a fairy tale. They pay the salary checks and you don’t see them. But he has breakfast with us. He seems so real.”
Foley, who made his big money in the property title insurance industry but also owns more than a dozen wineries and a half-dozen restaurant brands, introduces himself to every player and advises them of a rule right out of the box.
Call him Bill — not Mr. Foley.
“He’s taking good care of us,” Golden Knights center Jonathan Marchessault said as he took off his skates earlier today.
“He’s not involved in social media,” Marchessault pointed out.
No, Foley is not much of a social media guy. The native Texan and 1967 West Point graduate would rather talk face-to-face than tweet his thoughts. (When I covered Foley and the Maloof brothers when they were just starting the team back in 2015, Foley admitted to me back then that he wasn’t a big social media fan. There’s some irony there because the Golden Knights’ Twitter account, thanks to the quips of team twitterman Dan Marrazza, is one of the most popular in the NHL.)
You will see Foley wearing a casual Golden Knights warm-up suit and shaking hands with players after a game instead seeing his players wearing a formal business suit. Foley doesn’t major-league people and never has a condescending tone, Golden Knights players said.
“The owner is here almost every day,” Golden Knights winger Brendan Leipsic said. “That shows how much he cares. You know you have his support.”
Centerman William “Wild Bill” Karlsson said Foley is so at ease with players that he seems like another part of the team.
“You can talk with him normally,” Karlsson said. “It’s easy to like him. I definitely see him more than other owners (from my other teams.) He’s down here to shake your hand. He’s a good guy.”
Just because Foley is a nice guy doesn’t mean he’s a business pushover. When MGM Resorts International, which is a part-owner of T-Mobile Arena, the Golden Knights’ home ice, encouraged Foley to call the team the Aces, Foley stuck to his Golden Knights pick, a nod to his West Point Black Knights past. Foley also bought 15 percent of T-Mobile Arena, with MGM Resorts and AEG (owner of the Los Angeles Kings) owning the rest of the arena.
And Foley’s likability and treatment of the Golden Knights players has set the tone for the entire franchise and front office, said forward William Carrier.
“The entire organization has the same mentality,” Carrier said, noting Foley bought a ping-pong table for the players.
And Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant, known as a players coach, said Foley treats his staff “real well” and “he doesn’t get overly involved.”
Fans also appreciate Foley. In the third period of the Golden Knights’ emotional 5-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes Oct. 10 in the home-opener, the chant went up around T-Mobile Arena, “Thank you Foley.”
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