For years, Las Vegas sports fans have bemoaned the NCAA’s archaic ban of national championship events in the area because of gambling. Now that the ban is a thing of the past, speculation immediately turned to the possibility of a Final Four or College Football Playoff game.
What about hockey? Turns out Las Vegas and the NCAA are both interested in bringing postseason college hockey to town.
The NCAA said it would consider Las Vegas as a host site, and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority confirmed that not only is it interested in hosting a Frozen Four or regional, it is going through the steps necessary to make it happen.
“We’re so bullish on hockey right now with what the Golden Knights have been able to establish us as an ice destination, if you will,” said Lisa Motley, the convention authority’s director of sports marketing. “And that’s opened so many doors for us, so absolutely we’d be all-in on bidding on a Frozen Four.”
The NCAA’s May 3 decision to lift its ban on championship events being played in cities with legalized sports gambling allowed such an idea to become a possibility. Steve Metcalf, the chairman of the Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Committee, said the NCAA thinks of Las Vegas as a viable destination, and that people have reached out to him about their desire to come here.
“Vegas, with the success of the Vegas Knights, it seems like it’s become a hockey town very quickly,” Metcalf said. “We’ve certainly heard from a number of fans that want to make sure that we consider Las Vegas in the next cycle.”
The committee will accept bids from the end of August through its early February deadline, then decide next summer and announce Frozen Four and regional host cities for 2023-26 in October 2020. Regionals will follow the same timeline for the 2022-26 events.
Las Vegas is expected to make a bid. The LVCVA submitted a Frozen Four bid for the 2019-22 cycle knowing it would be rejected, signaling how serious it is about bringing the event to town in the future.
Denver hosted the 2008 event, the latest city in the western part of the country to host it, but the Frozen Four has not trekked closer to the Pacific coast since 1999 when it was in Anaheim, Calif., the only time it went past Colorado.
A city that features a Division I hockey team is not a prerequisite. The 2017 Frozen Four was in Chicago and the 2016 event was in Tampa, Fla. — both cities in states without college hockey. UNLV has a team in the American Collegiate Hockey Association, the highest level of college hockey below the NCAA.
That doesn’t mean that Las Vegas is a stranger to Division I hockey. Orleans Arena hosted the US Hockey Hall of Fame Game between North Dakota and Minnesota last October, as well as the Ice Vegas Invitational tournament at T-Mobile Arena the last two years.
The next hurdle is finding availability at T-Mobile Arena. An NHL facility has hosted the Frozen Four every year since 2007 — with the exception of 2010, when the event was in Detroit’s NFL stadium — and Metcalf said the NCAA’s “strong preference” is having it at an NHL venue. So, T-Mobile Arena needs to free.
MGM Resorts International, which owns T-Mobile Arena, released a statement of support for hosting a Frozen Four.
“We are thrilled by the NCAA’s decision to lift its ban on bringing Collegiate Championship events to Las Vegas,” said president of entertainment and sports George Kliavkoff. “Thanks to the Vegas Golden Knights’ success over the last two years, our community has quickly embraced professional Hockey and we believe they would do the same for a future event such as Frozen Four. Our team will continue to explore all of our options and, in the future, we look forward to delivering a variety of NCAA championship events to our college sports fans locally and those nationwide.”
Motley pointed out that the city needs hotel rooms to be open, and will consider the event calendar before bidding on a specific year for the Frozen Four.
“We need to take a look at what’s going on completely in the destination, not just a sporting event, let’s just hurry up and bring it here,” she said. “Let’s be thoughtful about this and logical and what’s best for Las Vegas and put our best foot forward.”
Metcalf said buy-in from the local NHL team is important, and if history repeats itself Las Vegas will have that. Golden Knights president of hockey operations George McPhee was an integral part of Washington’s successful Frozen Four bid in 2009 when he was with the Capitals.
“Las Vegas has become a hockey town. Excitement and interest around the sport continues to grow at an incredible rate here. Hosting a marquee event in Las Vegas such as the Frozen Four would elevate the excitement even higher,” the Golden Knights said in a released statement to the Sun.
Since the NHL awarded Las Vegas a team in 2016, hockey has exploded in the valley. The Golden Knights’ success is the shiniest trophy on the mantle, but since then UNLV moved into the newly built City National Arena and was elevated from ACHA Division II to Division I, Faith Lutheran High School launched a team, and the Vegas Junior Golden Knights pee-wee team became the first local squad to win a regional qualifier and competed in an international tournament in Quebec.
Metcalf stopped short of saying Las Vegas would not have been considered without the Golden Knights, but said they made the city more of an attractive hockey destination.
“It was an unbelievable hockey story last year. People were loving the story, people were getting on the bandwagon, myself included,” he said. “It really showcased hockey in Las Vegas. The new team there has added so much to the possibility of this happening, and the NCAA opened up Vegas as a championship site. No surprise that we’ve heard from a number of people that Vegas would be a great place to go.”
As for a regional, a smaller venue is more likely, which turns eyes away from T-Mobile Arena and toward Orleans Arena. A spokesman for Boyd Gaming, which owns the venue, said he couldn’t speculate on specific events, but pointed to the arena’s success in holding NCAA basketball tournaments, as well as the Hall of Fame Game last year.
“We have proven our ability to host well-attended and successful athletic tournaments at the Orleans Arena, and we will continue to work with the LVCVA and Las Vegas Events to explore and pursue future opportunities in this area,” Boyd spokesman David Strow said.
The Frozen Four is set for next year in Detroit, 2021 in Pittsburgh, and 2022 in Boston. Phoenix has expressed a desire to host its first Frozen Four after the success of its own college team in Arizona State. The Frozen Four had success in Tampa, and Minnesota is a common destination, among the many possibilities.
But Las Vegas believes it has a strong case. It’s never had the opportunity before with the ban on championship events, but now it will look to enter the arena as one of the country’s fastest-growing hockey towns.
“In Las Vegas with the popularity of the Golden Knights and introducing fans, I think Las Vegas locals would love a Frozen Four,” Motley said. “It positions us once again as the new sports capital of the world.”