“Community is a contact sport.” It is that powerful message that resonated at the Chamber Strome Business Series event with Vegas Golden Knights VP of Ticketing and Sales, Todd Pollock. Pollock shared the story of the Vegas Knights meteoric rise from his unique perspective as employee number one for a team that did not yet exist. The Hampton Roads Chamber partnered with the Old Dominion University’s Strome College of Business to bring Pollock to Hampton Roads to share his insight on the most successful expansion franchise in sports history.
“To see an organization grow from nothing is fascinating. I spent 18 months enduring hearing all the reasons why this couldn’t happen or shouldn’t happen and if it did why it wouldn’t succeed, but we survived all the doubts to make this work,” said Pollock. How the team continues to work is closely aligned with their original vision of a community first mindset. While the players played a part in getting the team to the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs in their first year, it was Pollock’s team that built the community and fan base. The Vegas Knights know it is the community that is the driving force in a team’s success and the franchise created unique opportunities to honor the community. Some examples Pollock provided included memorializing the season ticket holders with their names on scrolls enshrined in the inaugural ice, a 24-hour open house event at their corporate office which generated over $1 million in ticket sales, animal advocacy efforts, a military and veteran focused campaign called Folded Flag Foundation, a youth hockey outreach initiative called Sticks for Kids and many other efforts that highlight the team as an integral part of the community.
Pollock shared a video montage aptly titled, “Welcome to the impossible,” that included cheering fans, standing room only packed stadiums and goal after goal in a thrilling run up to the Stanley Cup playoffs, interspersed by quotes from the naysayers who never believed ice hockey could survive in Las Vegas. The moving video is testimony to just how good the marketing has been for this ‘impossible’ idea of a desert hockey team that is still being innovated and run as a start-up. Pollock credits the successes to “having the vision of what is possible. With 2.2 million local residents and 43 million yearly tourists in a transient area, the local population craved a sports team they could call their own.”
It is the emphasis on the Vegas Born concept and community development which will be key in sustaining their success. “Ethics in sports is the backbone, your name is your reputation, and visibility creates accountability.” The dream was sold and the community rallied around it. The Vegas Knights opened up their practice games to the public and in a venue that seats 800 there would be 2,000 people waiting. Each game at the T-Mobile arena was at capacity at close to 18,000 seats, but Pollock created standing room only sections, even getting people to watch the game on a screen from a nightclub inside the arena. “Our message is: we will always find a place to put you in the arena.”
“It wasn’t easy. We were told ‘no’ a lot of times, but we started on a grass roots level. We approached the Chamber locally and the local small businesses and we sold the value of this team. We aimed for 10,000 season tickets so we could go back and tell the NHL this was viable, we exceeded over 16,000 season ticket deposits,” Pollock said.
The Vegas Knights not only set records in ticket sales, but were the #1 selling NHL jersey and merchandise. The symbol of the knight is the epitome of a warrior class and it’s more than just a mantra protecting those who can’t protect themselves. In a sobering recollection of their opening night October 1, 2017 coinciding with the tragic mass shooting and death of 58 Las Vegas concertgoers the Vegas Strong mantra was also birthed. “When we opened after such a tragedy we were Vegas Strong and we helped to heal the city. Our community was so impacted and so hurt and the team really helped the city to heal. It meant we were setting up blood drives at our center, visiting hospitals, doing whatever we could. I don’t know if the city will ever completely heal, but it is incumbent upon us to be a part of that process,” said Pollock.
As their sophomore season is underway, the Vegas Knights keep the momentum going with their weekly community outreach and their shift in focus from the player to the fan. The Hampton Roads Chamber serves as an inspiring ignitor in the region and with this event’s audience full of Old Dominion University business students inspired by the phenomenal success of a team that lifted their community, it was a goal right in the net.
Thank you to our sponsors for this Chamber Strome Event:
Presenting Sponsor Dollar Bank and Host Sponsor Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel
Photo caption: ODU Business Students with Dean Jeff Tanner, Presenting Sponsor Pamela West and VP Ticketing & Suites Vegas Golden Knights, Todd Pollock